After two successful years, Direct Farm Manitoba fears that the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program (CFCP) will fail to continue for the 2022 farmers’ market season.

The Manitoba Community Food Currency Program provides ‘community food coupons’ to participants to spend directly on Manitoba farm products at their local farmers’ market.

The project involves Direct Farm Manitoba working with member farmers’ markets and community social service organizations to increase access to fresh, local, farm food for food insecure Manitobans while supporting local farmers and producers.

Last year, the program grew by 60 % over its 2020 pilot year, an increase made possible through additional funding from the Manitoba Building Sustainable Communities Program and the Winnipeg Foundation, distributing $69,000 of community food currency. 242 households took part in the program, working with 8 community partner organizations and 5 farmers’ markets in 5 rural and urban communities. Coupon redemption rates were at a stunning 98.5% in the 2021 program year, with all coupons being spent on fresh, local, farm food directly from Manitoba producers.

“The Manitoba Community Food Currency Program increases food security by creating greater access to fresh, local, food for Manitobans who need it most, while at the same time directly supporting our local farmers and producers. This is a win for farmers, a win for farmers’ markets, and a win for our Manitoba communities,” said Kristie Beynon, Executive Director of Direct Farm Manitoba. “COVID-19 and the rising prices of groceries have only made eating healthy more difficult for families. This program gives community members the opportunity to visit their local farmers’ market to purchase fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, and other farm products, while at the same time connecting with farmers and other community members. COVID-19 has been very isolating for so many people in our communities, and this program also builds the community that is so necessary for positive mental health”

The 2021 program elicited much greater interest than the funding could support. Direct Farm Manitoba anticipated significantly growing the program in 2022 to better meet this community need and had reached out to the province for direct provincial investment to serve 700 households across Manitoba. Both British Columbia (BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program) and Nova Scotia (Nourishing Communities Food Coupon Program), who run similar programs, receive annual provincial funding ($2 million B.C. per year; $400,000 N.S. per year) which allows for continuity and growth of these important programs. Direct Farm Manitoba says direct provincial investment in the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program would allow it to both expand into new neighbourhoods and better meet community demand.

“This program provided much needed activity at our farmers’ market over the past two years”, said Marilyn Firth, Executive Director at the St. Norbert Farmers’ Market. “In a time when farmers and farmers markets have struggled to thrive, a program that brings more people out to farmers’ markets while directly supporting our local producers and Manitobans in need is simply invaluable”.

Direct Farm Manitoba is a non-profit provincial organization supporting Manitoba’s farmers’ markets and small-scale farmers.