Accessing healthy, fresh food is not as easy as it should be for everyone, but the Cumberland Farmer’s Market Nutrition Coupon Program is helping to change that for members of the Cumberland community.
Since the Cumberland Farmers’ Market was born in 2016, they have been facilitating a nutrition coupon program for residents of their community, in partnership with Cumberland Community School Society (CCSS). The program, which is based on the BC Association of Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, provides $20 per week in coupons to low-income individuals to purchase whole foods such as fruits, vegetables, meat, dairy, nuts, eggs and cut herbs.
Twila Skinner is the General Manager of the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market Association, and she oversees the Cumberland Market and the coupon program.
“Although the village of Cumberland is working on it, they don't currently have a formal Food Bank. The closest Food Bank is in Courtney, so for residents of Cumberland—especially those who don't have readily available transportation—it can be hard to go all the way into Courtney to access that resource.”
In 2021 a total of $9400 in funding was provided to the coupon program by First Credit Union ($4000) and the Village of Cumberland ($5400). These funds enabled the organization to distribute coupons to 154 participants over a 13-week period.
Involving several key community players has been a vital part of the program’s success, Twila says.
“It's about spreading love. We have lots of people in the community who want to help and having different levels of support—from the government, the village of Cumberland, as well as some of the local businesses—makes it more of a community program because It's not just one stakeholder, it's lots of stakeholders, so it spreads it out and grows.”
Three years of support from First Credit Union has meant that more participants have been able to benefit from the program, Twila continues. “The more funds we have, the more participants we can have. As with any program of this nature, there is always going to be more demand than we have funds available for. Having the guaranteed funds from First Credit Union has given us a leg up and helped us to know that we can continue the program without having everything up in the air until the last minute.”
Access to nutritious food is just one of the positive impacts of the coupon program in Cumberland. It also helps to support the market and local vendors, bringing a steady stream of traffic through the venue and making it a valuable place for community gathering during the spring, summer and fall months.
Supporting local farmers and vendors is another important effect of the program and the market. Though the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market is a huge event with several thousand people coming through on a busy, summer day, the Cumberland Market is smaller and more intimate. It’s a safe place for new vendors to try out a product, Twila says.
“We are a small business incubator. Small farmers and small businesses are able to come to the farmers’ market, and get their product out to the public. It helps the farmers and the other food processors to see what products work and what product development they have to do—it helps them build their business. The Cumberland Farmers’ Market is small compared to our Saturday market in the Comox Valley, so it's a good steppingstone. This is a much smaller venue that can help producers to get out there.”
At the end of the day the work is all about removing barriers so everyone in community can thrive.
“By having this program, and trying to break down barriers, such as offering a drop off, or getting food to people through the CCSS’s Healthy Food Box Program, we know that the people we are trying to serve—the most vulnerable people in our community—are getting that food that they that they desperately need.”
The best part, Twila says is seeing happy people enjoying healthy, local food. “It's always great to see the kids come to the market and be able to have a fresh container of blueberries and just sit there and eat them and see the smiles on their faces.”