Farmers’ markets become more accessible

Farmers’ markets enable farmers to bypass wholesalers with direct sales to consumers, strengthening local economies.

Summer market season is here. The Island Roots Co-operative’s Wednesday afternoon winter market at Pleasant Valley Hall will shortly give way to the Bowen Road Farmers’ Market from May 13, Cedar from May 10 and Lantzville from May 17.

Farmers’ Markets enable farmers to bypass wholesalers with direct sales to consumers, creating shorter local value chains and strengthening local economies.

Last week I participated in a discussion on food sustainability co-sponsored by the Nanaimo and Area Land Trust and the City of Nanaimo. First priority was how to increase access for all to local, organic food. All agreed that the best way to do this is by supporting farmers’ markets and farm gate sales. The more we buy, the more will be produced because farmers will grow as much as they can sell.

It will take time to turn around dependence on over-processed cheap food, but there is no question that local products will have to replace, for example, meats from confined animal feeding operations, or intensive livestock operations. A 2008 study by the Union of Concerned Scientists in the U.S. revealed unfixable problems associated with intensive livestock farming such as antibiotic resistance, loss of rural income and the unethical treatment of animals. When subsidies such as pollution cleanup at public expense are removed, confined animal meat is not so cheap.

I stress meats because I find I buy more meat, fish and eggs at markets than vegetables, a common occurrence for those of us who have vegetable gardens at home.

I have puzzled over how to subsidize low-income customers to buy healthy, local food and am happy to report that the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets has created as part of their nutrition coupon program a successful healthy-eating initiative that both supports farmers’ markets and also strengthens food security across the province. Community partner organizations hand out coupons to lower-income families and seniors and provide food skills programs. These coupons can be spent at all B.C. farmers’ markets that participate in the program to purchase fruits, vegetables, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish and meat. Each household enrolled in the program is eligible to receive a minimum of $15 per week in coupons.

In Nanaimo, Foodshare partners with Bowen Road Farmers’ Market to hand out coupons on an honour system on market days. As noted in a recent study of this program, the satisfaction rate is high on all sides, from the mothers who can afford market foods for their families, to the vendors who increase their sales. Nanaimo Foodshare’s experience has been overwhelmingly positive. We can attest to customers almost in tears and children giddy with excitement as they choose their ‘real’ foods.

The program is subsidized by the Ministry of Health.

I would like to see some local initiatives to expand the subsidies to include more people who need them and build in some local economic resiliency.

Marjorie Stewart is past chairwoman of the Nanaimo Foodshare Society. She can be reached at

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