A regular visitor to The Local Community Food Centre
in Stratford, Ontario, Jamie Fisher is no stranger to its kitchens, markets or gardens.
“Right now, I go to The Local on Thursdays for a cooking program for moms. I’ve been going to cooking classes there for a few years now,” Jamie says.
A single mom with three kids, Jamie is on social assistance and often struggles to buy fresh food. When her cooking instructor told her about the Market Greens
fresh fruit and vegetable incentive program at The Local, she dove right in:
“I have a two year old, a four year old, and a nineteen year old. For me, Market Greens means I can afford fresh fruits and vegetables for my littlest ones. Providing fresh food is so expensive when you’re on a limited income,” Jamie says.
It’s a struggle to get by when you’re a single parent - especially if you’re on social assistance. Health unit data shows that a family of four with young children on Ontario Works had about $1,014 a month left to spend after rent in some parts of the province. The cost of a nutritious food basket was $868, leaving just over $146 to cover all other expenses, including transportation, utilities, and clothing. A lot of the time, food is the first thing to get crossed off the list.
Community Food Centres Canada launched Market Greens in 2018 to make it easier for low-income families to access fresh, local fruits and vegetables. The program achieves this by offering $10 and $20 Market Greens Dollars weekly for 20 weeks, and participants in Stratford can spend them at The Local’s ongoing Community Access Markets, where fresh fruit and vegetables are available to all community members at a significant discount throughout the year.
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. Jamie has noticed a few changes in her life since she first started the program a year ago, one of which is her kids’ day-to-day diet. But the biggest by far is how far her dollars now stretch:
“It feels great being able to provide better meals for my kids,” says Jamie. “I also have extra money, so it means that it’s a lot easier for me to cover other expenses and still have fresh fruit and vegetables at home. It’s a big deal for me in my household. Especially when you’re a single parent and it’s only you that’s providing.”
Her kids are also becoming more involved in decisions about food:
“When we go to the market, I get them to pick out a fruit or a vegetable. So in that sense, they are coming with me and helping, and helping with the family. They are happier because they get to choose food they like and they are doing it together,” Jamie says.
A two-year pilot, the Market Greens program currently operates at The Local in Stratford and the Chigamik Community Health Centre in Midland, 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.
Program results so far echo much of Jamie’s experience. According to participant surveys, kids were eating on average 2 more servings of fruits and vegetables per day compared to when they began the program. Meanwhile, 67% of participants reported that they tried new fruits and vegetables, and 76% said their kids tried a new fruit or vegetable because of the program. Studies show that introducing new foods at an early age can lead to healthier eating habits later in life.
With the pilot phase coming to close, should Market Greens be permanent? Jamie thinks so.
“Market Greens definitely needs to be permanent,” she says. “I know so many single moms just like me that are in need of an extra twenty bucks a week just to be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables for their kids. That extra money really goes a long way. It’s not a lot, but every little bit counts for us.”