For the residents of the Manchester Affordable Housing Complex, access to fresh, high-quality food can be difficult without a car.
Although a number of specialty grocers are within walking distance, the prices these retailers charge is out of range for some of the residents at the complex.
Added to that difficulty is that it can take transferring between bus routes, or taking the C-Train with substantial walking time, to get to major grocery retailers.
To address this need, local social enterprise Fresh Routes has partnered with the Calgary Housing Company, which owns the Manchester Affordable Housing Complex, to bring a produce market weekly to the building.
“I can’t tell you how much gratitude that we get from our residents here that we have this, and not only that is accessible in terms of location, but also in terms of how the program is being managed,” said George Abdelmessiah, vice president of customer experience for the Calgary Housing Company.
“We’re bringing fresh food actually to the community right at their doorstep which is also very accessible to those who are having some mobility issues as well.”
The market is serving low-cost vegetables and bread to members of the complex, but also to the surrounding residents of Manchester Industrial Park.
It takes place weekly from 6:15 to 7:45 p.m. on Wednesdays in the Manchester Tower community space. Fresh Routes also runs a number of other market locations throughout the city, and on surrounding First Nations Reserves.
Convenience and cost
Martin Robillard, the route operator for the Manchester Fresh Routes location, said that the market brings near wholesale prices along with convenience to residents.
For example, grape tomatoes were selling for $2.80 for a 284 gram basket at the February 23 market. At a local grocery retailer, the same product would have been sold for between $4 and $5. Banana bunches were being sold for $0.40, compared to between $2 and $3 at other grocery stores. Cucumbers were being sold for $2.15, versus between $2.50 and $3 elsewhere.
“There are nice fresh markets in the inner city, but they are expensive—they’re organic, they’re meant for a certain clientele—it’s not for everybody,” said Robillard.
“You can’t afford a pack of mushrooms for $12, or microgreens, or pomegranates for $4.50 each. That’s just not possible, it’s not viable in our society.”
He said that Fresh Routes have partnered with H&W Produce to source good quality, affordable produce for the markets, alongside local farms that want to give back to the wider community.
The markets are also supported by community volunteers, which also helps to keep staffing costs low, reducing additional costs for purchasers.
Ryan Mackenzie, one of the community volunteers for the evening and a resident of the complex, said it was extraordinary to give back to his community.
“There’s a gentleman in there tonight that said he works at Safeway as a produce clerk, and he just said it’s just astronomical the difference in price and how fresh this produce is.”
“These things are accessible not just to people in the Manchester Tower in this community, but to everybody. Doesn’t matter where you are, it doesn’t matter what your status is.”
Complementary currency Calgary Dollars now accepted for food, housing
Among the announcements at Wednesday’s market was that Fresh Routes would be accepting 100 per cent Calgary Dollars for purchases.
Calgary Dollars is a complimentary currency to the Canadian Dollar, which can be earned as an honorarium for volunteering and shopping at local businesses that accept Calgary Dollars. Calgary Dollars can only be spent in the city, with the goal of supporting local businesses and users purchase locally while building greater community connections.
The Calgary Housing Company has been accepting Calgary Dollars, up to C$50 per month per unit and up to C$20,000 per year, for rent.
The funding for the acceptance of Calgary Dollars by Fresh Routes is being provided by a grant from the Calgary Foundation.
“It’s huge in every way. The major thing being that people who are receiving some kind of security or support payments have no reductions in earnings in Calgary dollars,” said Jared Blustein, affordable housing program manager with Calgary Dollars.
“Oftentimes people who are receiving supports have a bit of a disincentivization to earn money elsewhere, as they start to lose payments. Calgary Dollars not only allows them to access a supplemental source of income, but it doesn’t detract from their social security or support payments.”
Mackenzie said that although he wasn’t volunteering for the Calgary Dollars, it was nice to receive some that would go towards his purchases for the evening.
“You give back and you feel good about it, and in turn, you get a little bit of Calgary dollars that you can use towards rent or you can use towards the food that we provide here tonight,” he said.
“It’s a perpetual giving system, which is extraordinary.”