Food security efforts at Morden's Many Hands Resource Centre (MHRC) have been fortified, thanks to a recent $1.1 million financial investment to the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program from the Manitoba Government.

The Manitoba Community Food Currency Program is administered by Direct Farm Manitoba, and provides 'community food currency’ to participants to spend directly on Manitoba farm products at their local farmer's markets in order to increase access to healthy, local food.

"Direct Farms works hard to try and get more permanent funding for the program, and they hadn't been successful until this new announcement was just put in place. They are very excited, we're very excited, and it will hopefully decrease our fundraising needs," said Tracey Krause, program coordinator for MHRC. 

MHRCMHRC Program Coordinator Tracey Krause at the Morden Farmer's Market Summer 2022

She explained, this isn't a new project for them.  

"In Manitoba, there was a pilot launch of this program three years ago and Morden was part of the pilot right from the beginning. We received both federal money for that and also money from the Morden Area Foundation. We had 95 people sign up for vouchers that were used at the farmer's market. They get about $24 worth of vouchers each week over the course of 10 weeks."  

MHRC also runs a Summer BAG (Better Access to Groceries) program that works with the local farmer's market over the course of eight weeks to fill a gap for subsidized fresh produce over the summer.

While the number of vouchers given out through MHRC was reduced in the past year to 70 from the original 95, Krause is grateful for the continued funding.  

She explained what they further hope to accomplish with the program. 

"It's really to get people out of the house, engaging at the farmer's market, finding out about local produce, trying different things, talking to the farmers. Then the money stays right in our community because it's paid directly to the farmers for the products that they're selling. It's a really great program, both for people who are food insecure, for our local economy, for our local farmers. It's a win on every level and socially, it's awesome."  

The voucher program through MHRC will resume in July 2023.  

"We give out the coupons until about the middle of September, but they have until the end of the farmer's market to use them up and they're good for fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, herbs, all of those kinds of things, honey, but not the baked goods."  

Some of the comments MHRC received from voucher recipients include:
"I tried new recipes, because sometimes I can’t find the food I am looking for, so I try new things every week." 
"It really helps me provide food for my son and me." 

Recipients also noted that the program allowed them to buy meat that they normally wouldn't be able to afford. 

For the winter months, the BAG (Better Access for Groceries) Program can help meet the increasing need by making bags of vegetables and fruits available at a cost of $10 for a $15 bag. The bags are available the third Monday of each month. 

Meantime, the need for MHRC's food bank has recently rebounded, with 95 families accessing the service. Krause isn't sure if the number will remain that high long term, as some of the need is to help those settling into the community once they move here. Krause expects the need will be reduced once those people are able to find work and housing.  

To learn more about Many Hands, to find support or to donate click here.

The story of the current program, began with an idea from Meg Dias, the assistance of Southern Health-Santé Sud and a number of grants along the way. Thank you to Cheryl Pearson, Healthy Living Facilitator with Southern Health-Santé Sud, for providing the back story that set the stage for what's happening today through Many Hands.

The existing program got its start by being  built on a Healthy Living initiative with farmers market to fill a gap for subsidized fresh produce over the summer with vendors from local Farmers Markets. Health Living worked with Many Hands to apply for Emergency Services Funding through the Morden Area Foundation to elevate the potential of the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program initiative, as originally piloted in B.C. The initial local pilot aimed to fund food security projects that helped meet the needs of vulnerable people impacted by COVID-19, in partnership with Many Hands and the local Farmer’s Market, for food using vouchers to purchase local farmer’s market produce. the concept was similar to the proposed Manitoba Community Food Currency Program originally piloted in BC, and now in its first pilot year in Manitoba with support from the Winnipeg Foundation.

Direct Food Manitoba provides the vouchers to the community partner, with there being no cost to the community at all.

The community partner then distributes these vouchers to families/people in need which will be used at the famers markets. The farmers market collects all the vouchers, and gets reimbursed by Direct Farm Manitoba. Currently, they have chosen their seven communities, and have funding for those. The program will run for 15 weeks, and provides $21/participant/week-$315/participant for 15 weeks of farmers market. In discussion of need from Families First clients, HUB food bank, churches, Regional Connections, clinic etc, 63 participants could fit this need in Morden, for a funding request of $20,000 to the Emergency Fund from the Morden Area Foundation.

In July Healthy LIving supported Many Hands in implementing the COmmunity Foundation grant of $14,000  with Direct Farm Manitoba for farmer’s market voucher program, and other sectors and partners to identify target groups. That was followed by working with Many Hands to apply for $6,000 for, and approval for, summer student with focus to support grant application and implementation. That was followed up with Healthy Living working with that students to coordinate voucher program and meetings to vet out applying for United Way Pembina Valley grant in Fall. Those efforts included meeting with United Way Pembina Valley Chair to explore potential fit for fall application to extend program with Pembina valley buying club market, and overall food security community coordination/coordinator.