Some low-income families and seniors in Abbotsford will receive coupons they can cash in for fresh fruit and veggies at the local farmers' market this summer.
Health minister and Abbotsford West MLA Mike de Jong announced $2 million in one-time spending for a provincial coupon program, which provides participants with vouchers that will allow them to purchase fresh fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, dairy or nuts at participating markets.
Up to 50 families and 10 seniors in the community will respectively receive a $15- or $12-coupon weekly for 14 weeks to spend at the Abbotsford Farm and Country Market.
Those getting the coupons locally will also be participating in skill building, cooking or nutrition workshops though the Abbotsford Community Services Best for Baby and seniors community kitchen program.
De Jong said the genesis for the provincial program came out of conversations he's had with society members of the Abbotsford market and the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets.
"It's a way to accomplish a number of things," de Jong said Friday.
"First of all, it promotes a healthy diet. It also promotes the finest, tastiest fresh produce in the world.
"And thirdly, it provides a modest amount of assistance to families and seniors that need it most."
Bruce Fatkin, manager of the Abbotsford Farm and Country Market, said the value of the program is twofold.
"The program is coupled with that training and meal planning and introduces new foods to help feed families in a more nutritious way," said Fatkin.
"Otherwise some people might walk past kholrabi or bok choy because they don't know what to do with it."
The coupons will also bolster support for local growers, he added.
"In terms of the vendors, there's definitely a measurable bump in sales."
But some critics don't feel a maximum of $15 a week per family is going to do much to alleviate those suffering from poverty or poor nutrition.
"They're not doing nearly enough to address the problem," said B.C. Poverty Reduction Coalition organizer Trish Garner.
There's "over 500,000 people living in poverty in B.C. [and] going hungry every day," she said, "and what they're doing with the food coupon is introducing an initiative that they say is only going to help 800 families."
Additionally, Garner said, farmers' markets are generally more expensive.
In the Fraser Health region the average monthly cost of healthy eating for a family of four is $851, according to a 2011 report by the B.C. chapter of the Dietitians of Canada.
Families or individuals on income assistance in the province must spend between 34 to 49 per cent of their disposable income on food, not including personal care items or cooking supplies and utensils.
And little is changing to address increasing food insecurity, with child poverty in B.C. having been the highest in Canada for eight years straight prior to 2010, food bank usage at an all time high, income assistance not linked to inflation and the province remaining one of two with no poverty reduction strategy in place, noted the report.
De Jong conceded that $15 extra dollars a week wasn't a large sum but paired with other measures, it has a cumulative positive effect.
"It all makes a difference," he said.
"I'm realistic that, in and of itself, it's a small amount but combined with other initiatives such as the school fruit and vegetable program, we are beginning to reinforce a message and provide others with the additional tools to make healthier choices."
Fatkin said $15 can go farther at a farmers' market than people think if used to purchase "whole foods."
"Fresh produce loses nutrients as soon as it is harvested," he said.
"At the market it is picked fresh, and you aren't paying for packaging or transportation, as opposed to something that is trucked up from California."
-with a files from Kim Nursall, Vancouver Sun