Candace Gordon with the Haney Farmer’s Market sits by a basket with a sampling of items that can be purchased at the market using the nutrition coupons. Colleen Flanagan/THE NEWS

VIDEO: Nutrition coupons help low income in Maple Ridge

Coupons allow participants to buy fresh fruits, vegetables and meats.

Purchasing fresh produce for some may be a choice between having a roof over your head or good food in your belly.

That is why Candace Gordon, with the Haney Farmer’s Market, can’t say enough good things about the market’s Nutrition Coupon program.

The program is managed by the B.C. Association of Farmer’s Markets and was started in Maple Ridge four years ago.

The Haney market is one of 54 involved.

It is geared towards low income families with children under 18-years and low-income seniors.

Participants have to register and must be taking some food skills program or a course that contains a cooking component. If they are not taking a food skills class then there are programs that they can take at the market itself that qualify as food literacy.

This year there are 82 participants split between low-income families with children under 18 and low-income seniors.

From mid-May to the beginning of November, eligible participants pick up five $3 coupons every week at the tent in the market.

The coupons allow them to purchase fruit, berries, vegetables, meat, fish, eggs and cheese and are valued at $240 over the 16 weeks the market is open.

“You would be surprised how many vegetables you can get for $15,” said Gordon.

“You don’t get a lot of meat or protein.”

She added that participants don’t have to spend coupons that day. They have the option of saving them up to purchase larger quantities of protein at a later date.

Farmers, in turn, give the coupons back to the market manager, who reimburses them with money, which is given to them by the Association of Farmer’s Markets.

To the farmers, the coupons represent an added $20,000 in revenue over the season.

Participants also have the option of spending the coupons at other markets taking part in the program. If someone were travelling to Kamloops, they could spend the coupons at the market there.

“It’s a great preventative program for health, really,” said Gordon.

“People that are eating healthy, nutritious diets have a better chance of being well and not going into the hospital,” Gordon continued.

There are mental health benefits, as well, in Gordon’s opinion.

“If you’re getting out and you are not being socially isolated, you are connecting with people at the market. People who have better social connections and are out at social events, that leads to better mental health,” she explained.

Gordon always has a waiting list.

However, when people don’t show up for their coupons with no valid reason, Gordon saves the coupons and gives them to the next person on the list.

She is also hoping she can one day expand the program to include low-income people who currently do not meet the requirements – single-parent homes with disabled children over the age of 19 or single people with disabilities who are struggling to make ends meet.

Now, Gordon has two families in the program who don’t technically qualify, but have been supported by money raised by the local Rotary organization.

“Unless we, as a community, are able to raise money, then we can say we raised this money and we want it to be spend on this,” said Gordon, who would like to be able to one day work with the Association of Community Living.

The Seniors Network holds a pub night every winter to sponsor 10 new seniors into the program.

“I always have a wait list for seniors and we are seeing more and more with the raise in rentals. They are really strapped for money to eat, seniors especially,” said Gordon.

“They always come, I never cut off seniors for not showing up. They come and they show up and they are so very grateful,” she added.

In the end, the program is designed to build good eating habits that not only benefits those who are low-income, but also local farmers.

“The farmers are very generous and compassionate,” said Gordon.

• To register as a coupon recipient, look for the coupon tent at the Haney Farmer’s Market Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Memorial Peace Park, downtown Maple Ridge.