Rise in produce costs hurts Regina meals program REACH

A food program in Regina is looking for more affordable options due to higher prices for fruits and vegetables.

Regina Education and Action on Child Hunger sells fresh produce to people at discounted prices. The group buys food in large quantities and such bulk-buying allows REACH to pass along savings as discounts to its customers.

Recent hikes in produce prices have diminished the power of bulk-buying.

REACH used to buy a case of cauliflower for $49. In December, it rose to $85. (Abby Schneider/CBC)

“Six months ago, we could provide 50 pounds of food for $30. We can no longer do that,” Dana Folkersen, executive director of REACH, explained. She said they currently buy about 25 to 30 pounds of food for that $30 amount.

Bill Brown, a professor in the College of Agriculture at the University of Saskatchewan, noted two factors affecting produce prices: drought in the U.S. and the fall of the Canadian dollar.

“Our Canadian dollar is dropping [and] that makes American fruit and vegetables more expensive,” Brown said. “If our dollar doesn’t improve, then we’re going to be facing higher prices for American fruits and vegetables which is the majority of our importing.”

Folkersen said the past few months were particularly bad. She said REACH could buy a caseload of cauliflower in October for $49. That jumped to $73 a month later. In December, a case of cauliflower cost $85.

Looking for options

REACH is setting up focus groups with customers to consider options. They might have to raise their prices or reduce the variety of produce offered.

Folkersen said two things they can do, for now, is to buy in season and buy foods grown in Canada such as squash, potatoes, mushrooms, and onions.

REACH also educates people on how to eat healthy on a budget. They teach cooking classes that encourage participants to buy and make food in bulk, and use frozen fruits and vegetables.

Folkersen said there is a growing interest in these programs as food prices go up.

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