Farmers markets are becoming tourist attractions as well as supporting local food production. (Black Press files)

B.C. farm markets look to expand tourist trail program

Coupons give low-income people access to fresh produce

It worked for B.C. wineries, and it’s working for farmers’ markets.

B.C.’s Farm Market Trail has been successful in its first phase of agri-tourism marketing, a 20-stop tour of the Kootenay Rockies and Columbia Basin region, and hopes to develop similar tours in the rest of the province.

The B.C. Association of Farmers Markets made its pitch for marketing support to the B.C. legislature finance committee as its tour wound up in Surrey on Thursday. Association executive director Heather O’Hara said creating winery-style tours is the next step for the association, which has members doing individual tourism promotion across the province.

The association has 23 members in the Kootenay Rockies, four in the Cariboo-Chilcotin Coast region, eight in the Fraser Valley, 20 in Metro Vancouver, 14 in northern B.C., and 27 in the Thompson-Okanagan.

Its biggest membership region, with 32 farm markets, is Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands, home of Saanich farmer-turned-Agriculture Minister Lana Popham. Popham has been aggressively promoting local food production, reviving the Buy B.C. marketing campaign and pushing for more locally sourced produce for health facilities and other provincial operations.

Another program delivered by the association is nutrition coupons for low-income seniors and families, allowing them to socialize and shop at farmers markets. Supported by donations from local farmers and other private supporters, the program started in 2007 with funding from five regional health authorities.

With direct support from the health ministry since 2012, coupons are now distributed in 57 communities and is expected to reach 3,900 households this year.

O’Hara told MLAs the program has a budget of $1.4 million this year, and would like to double its size to get the best local nutrition to people who can’t afford it.

The finance committee toured the province in recent weeks to hear a wide variety of appeals for provincial support. Its recommendations go to Finance Minister Carole James for consideration in the next B.C. budget, to be presented in February.


@tomfletcherbc
tfletcher@blackpress.ca

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