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New West to revive farmers' market coupon program

The City of New Westminster has decided to revive a program that provides farmers' market coupons to low-income families.

The Farmers' Market Nutrition Coupon Program (FMNCP) was funded by the Ministry of Housing and Social Development and administered by the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets (BCAFM). It started as a pilot project in 2007, and by 2009 included 3,000 families in 16 communities across the province. Participants received $15 in coupons to spend at their local market, and were given the opportunity to learn cooking techniques and nutritional information about the products they bought. The program had a 97 to 100 per cent redemption rate; that is, nearly everyone who received coupons actually used them.

The province decided it would no longer fund the program in spring of 2010, a few weeks before the new season was set to begin. Since then, Surrey, Squamish, Fort St. James and now New Westminster have decided to continued the program on their own, according to the BCAFM.

The New Westminster farmers' market, in partnership with the Shiloh-Sixth Avenue United Church received a $10,000 grant from the city. The farmers' market is putting up matching funds for the program. It will allow 60 families to participate, mostly families headed by single moms.

"There was a skill-building component, so rather than just being offered some free food like a food stamp, they were being empowered to cook nutritious meals for their families and utilize local foods," the market's operations manager Jen Arbo told The Royal City Record.

Not everything thinks this type of program should fall under the purview of cash-strapped municipal governments.

"Whatever happened to the days when cities used to worry about building curbs, installing street lamps and making sure the sewers work?" asked Daniel Fontaine, co-founder of the blog in a recent post.

"As much as the program sounds beneficial, I have to ask why the City of New Westminster feels it is their responsibility to be funding these types of programs with scarce property tax dollars. Funding a nutritional program for young mothers seems like something that should fall within the mandate of either the provincial/federal governments who have much deeper pockets than the City of New Westminster."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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