Piloted in the 2020 market season, the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program is a community building initiative that empowers members of our community who frequently experience barriers to accessing healthy whole food by providing them with access to community food currency to purchase food directly from participating farmers’ markets and food hubs across Manitoba. Together Direct Farm Manitoba, market coordinators, and community partner organizations promote food literacy and food security by making local, seasonal food more accessible to participants. The Manitoba Community Food Currency Program is modelled after the highly successful British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) Coupon Nutrition Program, which has been running for over a decade. Recently, Nova Scotia has also begun their own ‘market bucks’ coupon program.
Participating farmers’ markets partner with community organizations who are already connected with people who would benefit from better access to healthy whole foods. These community partner organizations select individuals and families who would benefit from increased food security and decreased social isolation. Direct Farm Manitoba provides small denomination community food currency to their community partners who pass them on to participants, who can use the community currency to purchase food from participating farmers. Farmers are reimbursed by Direct Farm Manitoba through program funding. Care and attention are paid to how community currency is designed, accepted and redeemed to ensure that use is not stigmatizing nor impacts anybody’s right to privacy. The program also includes limited funds for community partner organizations to create local solutions to transportation barriers for participants.
Direct Farm Manitoba exists to represent and advocate for the direct marketers of our agricultural sector. The Manitoba Community Food Currency Program is a win for producers, farmers’ markets and their communities, and therefore fits perfectly within our mandate.
This program aims to provide these positive outcomes:
- Access to fresh, local, whole foods and increased overall food security outcomes for members of the community facing poverty and food insecurity
- Strengthened communities through relationship building, increased health outcomes, and improved overall mental health resulting from inclusion, decreased social isolation, positive community experience, and healthy eating habits
- Support local resilient agriculture through the direct support of Manitoba farmers and producers through increased sales
The program was piloted in the 2020 farmers’ market season, partnering with both urban and rural community partners, and serving 140 households. In 2021 the program grew to support 243 Manitoba households. Partner organizations distributed a minimum of $24 in community food currency weekly to each participant for 15 weeks, from mid-June to mid-October. Vendors noted increased sales, markets brought in a new customer base, and participants had greater access to fresh, local foods and increased food security throughout the program.
The overwhelmingly positive community response has meant that the program has much more interest than the current funding can support. In order to continue the program in 2022, as well as expand to better meet community demand, we are seeking revenue of $350,000. It is hoped that revenue will come from a combination of private investors, sponsorship, government support, grant funding, and donations.