B.C. coupon campaign gives farmers markets a boost

KELOWNA, B.C. — Farmers markets are booming in British Columbia, and coupons and wine are getting the credit.

The number of farmers selling at markets has increased from 1,000 in 2009 to 1,400 in 2014, while direct sales increased 11 percent last year from 2014.

“We estimate that this is equivalent to an increase of $1.25 million in sales for total direct sales of about $114 million,” said Elizabeth Quinn, executive director of the B.C. Farmer’s Markets Association.

John Bell, the association’s past-president and executive committee member, said the coupon program has been particularly successful.

“Probably the most effective program for us has been our Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Program,” he said.

The program, sponsored by the provincial health ministry through Healthy Families BC, is a healthy eating initiative that supports farmers markets and improves access to fresh local foods for lower income families and seniors.

Bell said the association administers the funds that provide the coupons and ran the program in 48 communities last year.

“We partner with a community group, a seniors center or bellies for babies or the food bank, a registered association within a community that is dealing with people in need,” he said.

Each community group client is given $15 worth of market coupons per week, which can be used to buy fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, nuts and herbs at their local farmers market.

The program runs for 16 weeks from June to September.

Bell said there are only two requirements:

  • Clients must take part in a food literacy program.

“That might be a cooking program, a nutrition for babies session or a local farm tour to learn more about growing fresh vegetables,” said Bell.

“It’s not just, ‘here’s your coupon, off you go.’ ”

  • The coupons can be used only to buy fresh products.

“Items like bread or samosas or salsa from the market would not count.”

The association estimates that the coupon program supported 3,500 families last year, including 3,355 children, 308 pregnant mothers and 726 seniors who together bought $560,000 worth of food from local farmers.

Bev Wiens, president of the Kelowna Farmers and Crafters Market, said that the market works with Bridge Youth and Family Services and the Kelowna Community Food Bank. It reimbursed vendors for more than $60,000 of coupons last summer.

Another change for the province’s farmers markets was last year’s launch by the B.C. Liquor Control and Licensing Branch of local wine, beer, cider, and spirits sales.

Alcohol was sold at farmers markets in 40 communities last year following a successful pilot project in 2014.

More than 90 alcohol producers are part of the program, which includes market tastings and sales. Local products made from local ingredients can be offered at markets by vendors who hold an on-site store endorsement.

“It’s worked. It’s been positive. We have had many wineries, craft brewers and distillers,” said Bell.

“What it has done is brought in a lot of new people. The young guys are saying, ‘let’s go to the market.’”

Not all community bylaws support the sale of alcohol, and some markets, such as those on school grounds, may not be able to participate.

“Some of the concerns have just not materialized,” said Bell.

“After all, it is to be consumed off the market site.”

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