With the benefits that come with it, many Manitobans desire to eat local. However, sometimes that’s easier said than done. In urban living spaces a far cry from rural homesteads, access to farm-fresh goods can be significantly limited.
Direct Farm Manitoba is a memberowned cooperative of 140 farms and 41 markets, with the overarching goal of boosting small-scale farms and fostering connections between farmers and communities.
Kristie Beynon, the executive director of Direct Farm Manitoba, says the cooperative was birthed out of the Farmers’ Market Association of Manitoba, stemming from a desire to include direct-to-consumer farmers.
“Basically, we’re working to increase opportunities for direct sales of Manitoban agricultural products in the local economy and also working towards a strong local food system,” Beynon says.
Jennifer deGroot co-owns and operates Big Oak Farm, family-owned in Morden, MB, which farms greens, fresh eggs, livestock and more. She says Direct Farm Manitoba has provided their farm with opportunities to network, attend conferences and secure funding for everyday operations.
“It’s a great feeling, like you’re a part of a bigger picture,” deGroot says. “It’s that whole relationship piece ... you can ask questions, and most small farmers readily share their information about their farming practices with their customers.”
Beynon and deGroot cite many benefits of supporting small-scale farming, including cutting supply chains, reducing environmental footprints and keeping money in the local economy.
“People eat three times a day, so if you can switch your food or some of your food to local foods, then you’re making a definite positive contribution to reducing your carbon footprint,” deGroot says.
In an effort to achieve their mandate of making farm-fresh goods accessible to urban tables, Direct Farm Manitoba launched the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program in the 2020
By connecting local farms with community health and social-service organizations, fresh, local and whole foods are made available to those who otherwise would have difficulty obtaining them. Modelled after the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets’ Nutrition Coupon Program, the program offers an alternate, community, food currency that can be used at local farmers’ markets.
Beynon says the Manitoba Community Food Currency Program is beneficial to both sides of the exchange: it counters food insecurity while supporting local, small-scale farmers.
“The Community Food Currency Program helps to introduce people who might not have been farmers’ market shoppers or people who didn’t attend as often be able to be at the farmers’ market and be part of that community gathering place,” Beynon says.
Above all, the Direct Farm Manitoba’s cooperative and currency program is a pilot in broadening the farmers’ market community, making the joy of interacting with local vendors and taking home nourishing goods accessible to all.
“When you’re supporting your local producers and your local farmers’ markets, you’re supporting your local communities,” Beynon says. “It’s a win-win for everyone.”
Visit directfarmmanitoba.ca for a directory of local farmers, markets and pickup locations.
Published in Volume 76, Number 6 of The Uniter (October 21, 2021)