Food prices are rising at an alarming rate, especially if you’re trying to eat healthy. The high cost of housing and transportation means low-income families, especially those on income assistance programs, must resort to cheaper processed foods just to keep a roof over their heads.

In an effort to help more needy families gain access to fresh, locally grown foods, British Columbia’s Ministry of Health recently announced a $2-million, one-time grant to the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets that will support the new Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon Program.

The program functions much like the American SNAP or Food Stamp program in that it allocates a certain amount of money per individual or family to be spent on food. The difference is that the B.C. program provides coupons each week for participants to use at their local farmers’ market. Running for 14 weeks this year, the program is targeted at lower-income seniors and families, including pregnant women, who are participating in cooking and skill-building programs that teach participants how to cook meals using locally produced farm products.

It sounds like a great idea, one that will improve both health and food knowledge for those who participate. Unfortunately, the grant is hardly enough to make an actual difference in those that qualify for assistance. According to a release by the Ministry of Health, families will only receive $15 worth of coupons each week, while seniors will receive just $12 worth.

If you’ve ever shopped at a farmers market, you know that $15 a week doesn’t get you very far. Yes, it may allow a few families that were previously unable to buy any fresh food to access some fruit and vegetables, but it’s certainly not going to allow them to shift their diet away from unhealthy processed foods.

Also disappointing is the fact that the program will support up to 50 families and pregnant women and up to 10 seniors per B.C. community. That means lots of families in need will still have to go without. Still, if successful, there are plans to expand the number of families assisted each year.

“Let’s not kids ourselves, $15 is modest assistance, but the other key objective is to reinforce that linkage between people and fresh produce that is grown here in British Columbia,”  said B.C. Health Minister Michael de Jong.

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