When Brittany Desroches found herself out of work and struggling to get by, one of the biggest challenges she faced was getting the money her family needed to buy fresh food.
“Trying to allocate money when I wasn’t working was really hard,” she says. “We had all of these other expenses, and I found myself wondering how much money I could put towards vegetables all the time.”
Brittany isn’t alone. Health unit data shows that a family of four on Ontario Works in some parts of the province had an average of $1,014 a month left to spend after rent. The cost of a nutritious food basket was $868, leaving about $146 to cover all other expenses. Any way you look at it, it’s not enough to get by on - and healthy food is often the first thing to go.
The mother of a two-year-old and a four-year-old, Brittany found out about the Market Greens fresh fruit and vegetable incentive program offered at the Chigamik Community Health Centre in Midland, Ontario and thought it looked like a healthy bet.
“They were promoting the program by offering five Market Greens Dollars, and I thought I’d give it a shot. Essentially, I hoped it would give me a better chance to give my kids healthy food on a regular basis,” Brittany says.
The Market Greens program, which launched in 2018, was created by Community Food Centres Canada to make it easier for low-income families with young children to access fresh, local fruits and vegetables. The program achieves this by offering $10 and $20 Market Greens Dollars weekly for 20 weeks. For Brittany’s family, the Dollars are redeemable at Chigamik’s ongoing Miijim Market, where fruits and vegetables are available to community members all year round at a significant discount.
Market Greens is about more than just access: it’s also a health promotion program. Research also shows that fruit and vegetable subsidies can lead to major health benefits, and instill healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. Not only does this help reduce instances of chronic disease, but it also helps lower the associated burden on our health care system. For Brittany’s kids, having more vegetables in the house has led to changes in their eating habits and a healthier diet.
“We now eat a lot more vegetables. Both of my kids are hooked on salads - they have a salad almost every meal now,” she says. “They also enjoy helping us prepare food. For example, my son likes to cut up vegetables and helps us make dinner sometimes – and so does my daughter. So we’ve got both kids in the kitchen. They’ve always been great with fruits and vegetables, but now they are that much more into them.”
A two-year pilot, the Market Greens program currently operates at Chigamik in Midland, and The Local Community Food Centre in Stratford, Ontario. The program is only one of many different approaches CFCC and its partners take to reducing the burden of poverty and food insecurity on Canadians. We are also committed to working on improving food policies to help better serve the needs of low-income communities.
Results from the pilot show how much people benefitted from the Market Greens program. Based on participant surveys, 80% said the program changed the way they shopped for, cooked, and chose fruit and vegetables. Meanwhile, 76% reported that their children tried a new fruit or vegetable, while others said they noticed an improvement in their children’s overall health.
Brittany thinks the program should be made a permanent fixture, and that other families would also benefit.
“It would be awesome if Market Greens were permanent – it helped my family a lot, and I think it would benefit a lot of other people in Midland too” Brittany says. “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!’