People and programs 07/04/2018 “The market is a welcoming place where people can bring their families, meet new people, and do something fun together. And of course, they get to access the kinds of foods they often don’t get the chance to eat.” Some food for thought if you’re planning to check out the strawberries at your local farmer’s market this weekend: while markets are a great way to access fresh, in-season produce and support local food producers, low-income community members are often left out. They face barriers that can stretch beyond lack of affordability to inaccessible location, or the feeling of not belonging in an “exclusive” community space. Testing a new approach We want to live in a country where everyone can afford to choose and eat the food that’s good for their health and the environment. That’s why we’re piloting a program called Market Greens that offers weekly financial supports for low-income families to shop at an affordable produce market in their community and increase their access to fresh fruits and vegetables. The pilot is made possible thanks to funding from the Government of Ontario’s Local Poverty Reduction Fund. Designed and led by Community Food Centres Canada, the program is now underway in two Ontario communities with the help of key local partners: The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford and Chigamik Community Health Centre in Midland. In 2018, a total of 160 low-income families with children ages 0-6 will participate in Market Greens. Each family receives a weekly voucher of between $10 and $20 for a period of 20 weeks. The voucher is redeemable at weekly affordable produce markets run by the partners, where fruits and vegetables are already offered at a significant discount. Community Food Centres across the country run similar affordable produce market programs throughout the year, making fresh food more accessible for low-income community members. Getting a haul of fruits and veggies for $5 “Their money goes much further,” explains Jenn Parsons, Manager of Food Logistics at The Local Community Food Centre. “One family recently picked up blackberries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes, kale, lettuce, parsnips, and sweet potatoes — and after their incentive was applied, they spent less than $5.” The program is helping families significantly increase their consumption of fruits and vegetables, which is proven to have positive impacts on health. And though it’s early days for the program, which started enrolling participants in May, the enthusiasm from the community so far is promising. “Our participants are enjoying coming to the market and they’re telling us that with the financial support, they’re finding it easier to eat healthier,” says Jenn. “Some of the families have also started joining other programs we offer, like our Monday night dinner and our kids’ drop-in, which run during the market program.” But affordable produce markets and the Market Greens program are meeting more than just food needs for young families in these communities. Building community and finding support “A lot of our community members tell us they have a hard time getting out, that there isn’t a place in the community where they can connect to other parents with young children,” explains Cassandra Forget, Indigenous Program Assistant at Chigamik Community Health Centre. “The market is a welcoming place where they can bring their families, meet new people, and do something fun together. And of course, they get to access the kinds of foods they often don’t get the chance to eat.” “As we get to know them, we often learn community members are dealing with other issues beyond food access,” adds Alex King, Food Access Worker at Chigamik Community Health Centre. “Then we connect them to other services within our agency, from mother care programs to primary health care. So they’re not just getting help with fruits and vegetables -- they’re also getting help to access health services and finding a strong network of support.” Learn more about Market Greens and other programs that increase access to healthy food.