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Province invests in farmers market food coupon program

Premier Iain Rankin holds a handful of "food bucks" beside Halifax Brewery Farmers' Market manager Cath Morley (Courtesy of Communications Nova Scotia)

By Chris Stoodley

Posted Jul 2, 2021, 9:00PM ADT.

Nova Scotia is putting money toward a program that aims to help low-income households purchase fresh, healthy and locally produced food, along with improving peoples' food literacy.

The province will invest $350,000 in the Nourishing Communities Food Coupon Program, a program created by the Farmers' Market of Nova Scotia Cooperative.

The program gives participating households regular allowances of “food bucks” which act as an alternative currency and can be used at 25 farmers markets.

“Supporting community organizations in their efforts to increase food security is not only a responsibility but a priority for this government,” Premier Iain Rankin said in a news release. “The Farmers' Market of Nova Scotia has been a leader in creating initiatives to improve food literacy in our communities. It is critical for everyone to have access to good nutrition and healthy eating choices.”

Each of the 25 farmers markets will partner with non-profit organizations which provide the markets with food bucks on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis.

The organizations are responsible for selecting which households can participate based on specific criteria. The markets are responsible for creating the food bucks — whether physical, digital or both — and ensuring the program's participants remain anonymous.

“We are beyond thrilled by this funding announcement. Growing this program will allow us to build on the incredible success we have already achieved,” Justin Cantafio, Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia's executive director, said in the news release. “Through this program, we are promoting community inclusion, stimulating our local economy and providing healthy, local food to those who need it most. It is a win-win-win opportunity.”

The program first launched in May 2019 with six participating farmers markets; it grew to 13 farmers markets the following year.

Over an eight-month period between 2020 and 2021, the Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia distributed $78,235 worth of food coupons to 261 households across the 13 markets. In the program's first year, the Farmers' Markets of Nova Scotia distributed $42,000 worth of food coupons to 105 households across 6 markets in rural Nova Scotia.

Acadia University's Entrepreneurship Centre conducted a report on the program in its first year and called it a “resounding success.”

The report shows 88.9 per cent of all coupons were redeemed, but some of the markets allowed participants to still redeem their coupons after the program officially ended. The report also showed that participant loyalty was high, stating that only one participant had chosen not to finish the program.

In the 2018 to 2019 fiscal year, the Nova Scotia Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage invested $63,100 into the program.

The following year saw the department initially invest $65,000 into the program. This year, the department has increased that investment by $285,000.

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