Anyone who has not visited a local farmers’ market is missing something special. You walk in and are immediately surrounded by the vivid colours of fresh produce, full displays rich in variety and grown and sold by people from every walk of life. This is a place where folks meet friends and neighbours, and where they stock up on fresh healthy food for the coming week.
There is a special feel at these local markets but there is more going on. Farmers’ markets help us to ‘shop local’ in an immediate and effective manner. After all, while the average North American meal has travelled 2400 km to get to the plate, it’s a rare instance when market goods have travelled more than a few kilometers. This is better for the environment.
The BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program is a program that supports healthy eating and strengthens food security across British Columbia. While the program is already fully subscribed this year, it has been providing weekly fresh food coupons to low-income families and seniors that can be used at farmers’ markets. Originally piloted in 2007 in just five communities, this year a total of 48 BC communities are involved, reaching some 3000 households around the province. On the coast, Gibsons, Pemberton, Powell River, Roberts Creek, Sechelt, Squamish and Whistler are all involved. For 16 weeks during the summer families and seniors in the program receive $15 worth of coupons that can be used to purchase fresh vegetables, fruits, meat and eggs from the Farmers Market. The benefits of the Nutrition Coupon Program reach beyond the food that is purchased. Families and seniors in the program gain food skills from how to cook new vegetables to taking part in canning and preserving workshops. They also build a sense of community through a weekly stop at the Market getting to know the local farmers and meeting others that shop at the markets. Find out more about this program by visiting the BC Association of Farmers Market
Supporting local food producers pays off for everyone involved. Local produce is the freshest you can buy. It is picked when it is fully ripe and delivered to you quicker than produce imported from a distant supply. Families can enjoy the freshness that comes with farm-to-you products like crisp baby carrots, luscious fruit and free range chicken and eggs. It also means eating healthier. And where better to find out how your food is grown than by asking the farmer who grew it?
The benefits of shopping at local markets like these extend far beyond individual families getting high quality food products. Since all the suppliers are local, it means we are supporting small farms and producers and the local economy. In turn, this means building up food security for the community. In other words, by strengthening local food systems we contribute to sustainability as well as to food security. All that, and the freshness of ‘just picked’ produce!
Dr. Paul Martiquet is the Medical Health Officer for Rural Vancouver Coastal Health including Powell River, the Sunshine Coast, Sea-to-Sky, Bella Bella and Bella Coola.