Simply in Season

News and reflections on all that's good about local food
from the co-author of Simply in Season,
a World Community Cookbook in the spirit of More-with-Less

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

"That's My Farmer" market coupons

I couldn’t be more thrilled about a pilot program taking place here in my home community of Corvallis. Would churches in your town be interested in doing something like this? Here’s a press release circulated by organizers last week:

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Coupon Program Promotes Locally Grown Food,
Helps Low-Income Families

In a time when family farmers are going out of business in record numbers and fertile land continues to fall out of production across America, local groups are creating strategies to keep small farms in the Willamette Valley in business.

This spring, five Benton County churches adopted a coupon program to promote a handful of family-scale farms, keep parishioners shopping at the farmers’ market, and provide fresh produce to the needy.

The program is called “That’s My Farmer!” after a similar effort that has grown and flourished under the guidance of the Reverend John Pitney, a Methodist minister in Eugene. [The Eugene program especially encourages church members to join CSA subscription farms.]

“I see the faith community as one of the only consistently organized groups in our community,” said Harry MacCormack, owner of Sunbow Farms and one of eight farms promoted by this year’s coupon program. “Congregations are an important basis of support for small family farms.”

Last weekend, participating congregations sold more than $1,500 worth of coupons in their first sale of the season.

Coupons are sold after services and in parish offices, and then taken to the farmers’ markets or farm stands where participating farmers sell their products. Ten percent of proceeds are used to provide coupons to low-income families.

This is an issue of food justice,” explained Sister Kathy Carr of St. Mary Catholic Parish in Corvallis, and one of the organizers of the program. “People across the economic spectrum should be able to enjoy fresh, nutritious produce all season long, and these coupons are a step in that direction.”

Participants say they hope some day people will feel a loyalty toward local farmers in the same way that they depend on a family doctor or a dentist.

“Small farmers need our constant economic support and commitment,” said project coordinator Liv Gifford of Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon (EMO). “Locally grown food is a better choice for the environment and the local economy, in addition to just tasting a million times better.”

The coupon program evolved out of several years of dialogue at St. Mary Catholic Parish on community food security. Social justice activists launched the program last spring, adding a unique twist – 10% of proceeds were turned into coupons for families in need. This year, with the support of EMO’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership, the program has spread to five congregations across the county, reaching an estimated 7,000 people.

As of this week, St. Mary Catholic Parish, First Congregational United Church of Christ, First United Methodist, Monroe United Methodist, and the Corvallis Mennonite Fellowship are selling the coupons. Several others are about to join.

The eight farms – Gathering Together, My Pharm, Heavenly Harvest, Sunbow, Denison, Midway, Deep Roots and Bald Hill – send their coupons in to program organizers once a month for redemption.

EMO’s Interfaith Food and Farms Partnership is a two-year effort to support local farms, increase food access to the hungry, and raise awareness in faith communities.

“Most congregations of all faiths are involved in feeding the hungry, and this project expands that traditional role. Helping local family farms remain viable—a real bedrock of food security in a time of rising oil prices—and getting nutritious food to low-income families are very practical ways of loving our neighbors,” said Jenny Holmes, Environmental Ministries Director at Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon.

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Got all that? So you buy a booklet of six $3 coupons, redeemable for food at the eight participating farms (at the farm stands or the farmers' market). The cost is $20; the extra $2 provides free coupons for low-income families.

The coupon buyers get wonderful food (and as someone from my church observed, it's easy to want to shop at the farmers' market but having the coupons in hand will help her actually get out there on Saturday mornings). The farmers get more business. And lower-income folks get better access to fresh, nutritious food: everyone wins.

One hundred percent of coupon sales eventually makes its way to local farmers -- that's good for our local economy. Consuming more local food means less use of fossil fuels -- that's good for the environment. And all these things contribute to a healthier community.


At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Tana said...

Very inspiring. I'll send the link to the woman who manages my local market.


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