People and programs 08/16/2019

Across the country, farmers' market tables are heaving under the weight of the August harvest. It's a great time to celebrate and share local food, and meet producers, friends, and neighbours in a fun, food-filled space. 

But for Canadians living on low incomes, that abundance and those community spaces are out of reach. Affordability and transportation are often the biggest barriers. Farmers markets can also sometimes feel like exclusive spaces that are only welcoming to those who can afford to buy in. 

Enter Market Greens, a pilot program running in two Ontario towns that gives families living on low incomes weekly cash vouchers that they can redeem for fresh fruits and vegetables at an affordable produce market in their community.

Now in its second year, the program offers families $10 to $20 in weekly vouchers for a period of 20 weeks. The affordable markets run by The Local Community Food Centre in and the Chigamik Community Health Centre sell produce at cost, which means each voucher goes much farther than if it were redeemed at the grocery store. The markets also boast other activities and services, and a sense of community inclusiveness.

For Brittany Desroches, a program participant and mother of two young children in Midland, the impact of the program has been significant.

“Trying to allocate money when I wasn’t working was really hard. We had all of these other expenses, and I found myself wondering how much money I could put towards vegetables all the time.” Since her family first started participating in Market Greens, Brittany has seen positive change: “We now eat a lot more vegetables. Both of my kids are hooked on salads -- they have a salad almost every meal now.” 

In addition to improving access, Market Greens is also promoting health. Increased consumption of fruits and vegetables has been linked to a reduced incidence of chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension.

Early evaluations of the program are positive: 98% of participants surveyed say the program has helped them access more fruits and vegetables. 90% of parents were less concerned about their children’s ability to eat enough fruits and vegetables. And children in the program were on average eating two more servings of fruits and vegetables on a typical day than they had been when their families started the program.

“This program helped my family a lot,” says Brittany. “I think it would benefit a lot of other people in Midland too. It helped me realize that buying fresh vegetables is attainable. I remember going to the market for vegetables and thinking: ‘With only twenty bucks -- I can do this!’ 

Market Greens in Midland: Read Brittany's story
Market Greens in Stratford: Read Jaime's story

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Want to learn more about fruit-and-vegetable incentive and prescription programs? We spoke to Michael Nischan about how his organization, U.S.-based Wholesome Wave, piloted the approach.