In 2021 and 2022, Acadia University honours student Erika Bout undertook an extensive study that explored the impacts of the Nourishing Communities Food Coupon Program on participants and their communities. This report serves to highlight some participant experiences and impacts of the program, celebrating its extraordinary successes in doing so. It also serves to identify some opportunities to improve the program and poses some points for critical contemplation. To read the full report, please click here! The Executive Summary can be found below.
27 program participants were interviewed twice (at the beginning and end of the program), along with 8 program administrators (interviewed once each). Their interview transcripts were coded and analyzed which make up the themes and results of this study.
Results show that the impacts of the program can be loosely parted into three categories: impacts on participants themselves, impacts on community and connections, and impacts on local vendors and economic/food systems. A full list of specific impacts of the program as identified by program participants is illustrated in Table 1, and participant quotes and accompanying descriptions of each impact can be found in the research findings section.
The program was overwhelmingly commended by program participants and was described as a positive, impactful, and helpful force in people’s lives. Knowing that this is not always the case with programs intending to help potentially vulnerable populations, this report also seeks to demonstrate the ways in which the program is more than a stopgap solution for food insecurity. Three aspects of the program that make it distinct from short-term food assistance models and charitable efforts are:
- The program inherently and exclusively supports local, small, often environmentally sustainable business. As such, participants characterize the program as reciprocal rather than charitable, since they actively contribute to the collective good, rather than perceive themselves as passive recipients of charity.
- Participants have utmost choice and autonomy in the way that they engage with the program and what they choose to spend their money on. In absence of surveillance practices and prescriptive program restrictions, participants participate in ways that best suit them and their unique and fluid life circumstances.
- The program enables meaningful and experiential engagement that allows for impacts beyond short term food or financial assistance, such as learning new things; taking part in an uplifting, social activity; and being more connected to community, seasonality, and food systems. Since farmers’ markets are place-based, experiential, animate, community places (more so than most North American grocery stores or food banks), a host of benefits are available to participants, vendors, and the broader community, beyond that of short-term food assistance.
TABLE 1: Summary of impacts of the Nourishing Communities Program, from participants’ perspectives
There were also themes and feedback that act as opportunities for improvement or points for critical thinking, such as,
- the presence of shame and stigma in using the Market Money (i.e., the coupons);
- some miscommunications or lack of clarity for participants and vendors around the details and function of the program;
- and broader opportunities to leverage the program to cultivate more community connections, deeper engagement, decrease stigma, and work towards more systemic and long-term food sovereignty and community resilience.
Recommendations for program administrators include: improving communication and program orientation for participants and vendors; promoting a discourse of dignity and naming neoliberal stigma involved in food insecurity and poverty; navigating public-facing messages about the program; becoming more aware and critical of surveillance and paternalistic practices; making farmers’ markets more accessible in general, and questioning who is missing from the program due to the ways it is designed, administered, and understood.
Cultivating (more, deeper, diverse) relationships, looking for opportunities to expand engagement with the program, and reimaging the program as one that is about more-than-food-security are discussed as possible avenues to magnify its impact and serve as leverage points in the data.
The Nourishing Communities Program is an exciting example of community work that is important in cultivating more resilient, just, connected, and joyful futures in Nova Scotia. Futures where people are not only fed calorically but nourished through connections to their community and place. This study demonstrates that the program is one that can be viewed as a model for others like it around the world. Its success is a testament to what is possible when reciprocity, autonomy, dignity, and connection are embedded in the ways todays pressing, systemic issues are tackled.