VICTORIA -- In the coming months, farmers markets in B.C. will play a key role in feeding people while supporting local farmers during the COVID-19 crisis as the province encourages them to move their operations online.

"This is recognition of how important it is for us to be able to access locally grown and produced food, and the farmers markets are an important part of that," provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Friday.

The BC Association of Farmers' Markets (BCAFM) announced Friday that it is helping members move online so they can continue to provide people with locally grown food during the crisis.

"Anyone that is in a grocery store right now sees the need to support local," said Esquimalt Farmers Market manger Katrina Dwulit. “Everyone is looking at a way to get their groceries right now so this option is going to be fantastic.”

The 145 BCAFM member markets are eligible to receive funding to help transition to an online market.

“B.C. farmers markets are an essential retail sales channel for British Columbians to access local food and sustain the livelihoods of thousands of farmers and food processors across our province,” said BCAFM executive director Heather O’Hara.

“In further response to COVID-19, our new B.C. farmers’ markets online platform will offer a new shopping channel for the peak farmers market season this summer.”

The province is providing $55,000 to the BCAFM to cover the cost of individual farmers markets to go online and set up a digital store. Each participating market will create its own virtual market store to serve its communities.

The funding is part of the Buy BC program and helps farmers, ranchers and producers market their products as locally grown, raised, harvested or produced, making it easy for British Columbians to buy locally.

A list of local markets with online operations will be available here in the weeks and months ahead.