Food currency program gets provincial funding

Following a provincial donation of nearly $1.1 million, a food currency program that supports local producers and food-insecure Manitobans is poised to make its way to Westman.

The province announced the investment, which will be doled out over a period of three years to Direct Farm Manitoba to support its Manitoba Community Food Currency program, on Monday.

Citing “exceptional inflationary measures” that are driving up the cost of groceries, more Manitobans than ever before are facing food insecurity, unable to meet their own and their family’s nutritional needs, said Agriculture Minister Derek Johnson.

Direct Farm Manitoba is a co-operative of farms and markets that advocates for its members and connects them to economic opportunities. Its food currency program has been in operation for three years, said Kristie Beynon, the organization’s executive director.

After she and others at Direct Farm Manitoba heard about a food currency program in British Columbia, they were eager to get one started in Manitoba, Beynon told the Sun.

“It’s the first [food currency program] in Manitoba … we worked with B.C. when we were looking at our program,” Beynon said.

“An increasing number of Manitoba households are struggling with food insecurity. … This program increases access to healthy, local food for those who need it most while supporting our local farmers and farmers markets and building stronger communities.”

Direct Farm Manitoba collaborates with social-service organizations, such as women’s centres or mother and baby groups, to connect food-insecure people with access to healthy food through special currency, which can be used at farmers’ booths and local farmers’ markets to buy meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. Each family chosen will receive $28 in food currency per week for 14 weeks — $392 in total — during the summer market season from late June to early October.

“This unique food currency initiative helps ensure Manitobans in need have reliable and equitable access to healthy food that promotes their well-being, while simultaneously supporting farmers’ markets and local agri-product businesses,” Johnson said in a press release Monday.

With the price of food “skyrocketing,” Beynon said the program is a win-win for everyone involved.

So far, Direct Farm Manitoba has implemented the program in Winnipeg and in rural communities as far west as Carman and Morden, 186 kilometres and 208 kilometres southeast of Brandon, respectively.

Beynon said the province’s three-year funding commitment will enable the program to expand to 700 more households per year. She hopes it will also allow it to flourish in communities in Westman.

“We have member markets from across the province, and we’d really like to grow it,” she said.

The province’s investment is part of its $87-million family affordability package, unveiled in August, which provides benefits to families with children, seniors living on fixed income and others.

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun