B.C. has a new program to provide lower-income seniors and families throughout the province with locally-grown foods. The only problem? The South Okanagan is currently being left out.
The Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon Program is part of the Ministry of Health’s Healthy Families B.C. strategy, and provides families and seniors between $12 and $15 worth of coupons per week, which can be used to purchase goods at their local farmers’ markets.
As well, the program pairs markets up with community agencies to teach cooking and skill-building programs. The program was made possible through a $2-million grant to the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets.
While 21 farmers’ markets throughout B.C. are included in the program, those in the South Okanagan are not. Each health region was given a limited number of markets for the program to take place in. In the case of Interior Health region, only four markets were included: Revelstoke, Nelson, Kelowna and Vernon.
Stephanie Sundquist, manager of the Penticton Farmers’ Market, was disappointed upon discovering their application was denied, as she said the South Okanagan has many people who could benefit from the program.
“We have a really broad, low-income rural population, which is traditionally underserved by these programs,” she said. “That was a large component of our application, that it would be nice to see this extend to the more rural areas.
“Where people are much more challenged to find good, healthy, local food, ironically, is out where all the food is grown. It tends to be more expensive and it tends to be more difficult for those in low income to access.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Health said in a email that the program is a revamp of a similar initiative which ended in 2009. The four markets in the Interior Health region were a part of the previous program, and much of the groundwork has already been laid, making these markets the ideal choices.
However, in the future, the South Okanagan might be in luck. The intention of the program is to improve and expand next year, including more communities throughout B.C.
While Sundquist said the Penticton Farmers’ Market will be putting in another application next year, they have been looking at alternatives, including a similar local program.
“We have actually discussed possibly attempting to find an alternate source for a similar program,” she said. “That is something we have been discussing and pursuing even before this has been announced.”