Kids Take Over Oregon City Farmers Market!

Kids Take Over Oregon City Farmers Market!

Wed 13 Jul 2011

Story by Jackie Hammond-Williams
 

I am passionate about kids eating healthier. So seeing Jamie struggling to get kids to try different veggies, and hearing that the local County’s Health Department was offering a “Healthy Eating Active Living” grant, I was inspired to come up with a plan.

The grant was for non-profit organizations who could think up innovative ideas to get Clackamas County (North West Oregon) healthier. I knew I couldn’t miss this opportunity!

My goal: to introduce kids to the wonderful variety of seasonal veggies and fruit at the two summer farmers’ markets I manage in Oregon City. We’re at the end of the Oregon Trail, where we have “the freshest food in the oldest City!”

I felt that if kids had buying power they would be more inclined to eat what they had purchased. I wanted them to feel it was their market too; somewhere they could meet farmers, learn where their food was coming from and make the connection with the seasons. Hopefully we will have healthy local foods in schools soon and I wanted the kids to be familiar with seasonal produce before it shows up on their plates so it won’t seem so strange to them!

I got the grant and called my program the ‘Power Of Produce (POP)’ Club. After all, healthy bodies have power! Aimed at ages 5-12, the club kicked off at the first Saturday market this spring, May 7th. To get the word out I made presentations at PTA meetings, had the school district and County send out fliers & bookmarks explaining the program were distributed at schools, libraries and churches.

The first time kids attend the POP clubs at the market and register they get their ‘Passports to Health’. These are kept at the market and each time kids come to shop they get a stamp on the corresponding date, so the market can track who comes and how often.

Each kid then gets a re-usable POP Club shopping bag, a POP Club button, a pedometer to track their Steps to Health around the market (donated by the local hospital) and five $1 wooden tokens to spend on fresh fruits and veggies and food plants. Every farmer is given a POP Club sign to hang at their booth identifying them as POP Club friendly. I want the kids to really get to know their farmers, focus on fresh produce and take home plants to grow into food – not shop for lemonade or pastries! Every time the kids come to market they receive the $5 in tokens.

Happy if 40-60 kids showed up, we were amazed when 150 arrived that first cool, rainy spring day. Since then 250+ have showed up regularly each Saturday and the POP club has given out $9,000 in 7 weeks! Thank goodness the County has come up with more funding to keep it going into strawberry season.

Parents are so supportive of the program. They can see the benefit up front and several have become volunteers at the POP club booth registering the kids. Seeing lines of kids at the farmers’ booths buying asparagus, greens, cilantro(!), radishes, carrots, beets and now the strawberries has been really rewarding. The kids have also been saving their tokens (fancy that!) each week and coming back to buy blueberry bushes and apple trees. Many parents have told me their kids are so excited to be growing their first veggie garden and say it has really made a difference to the kid’s diet. When they shop for their own produce they want to eat it!

It’s exactly the effect I was shooting for. Empowering the kids to make their own healthy choices, take ownership of their local farmers’ market, meet the farmers (who have loved it!), & creating memories - all this will hopefully bring them back to markets as adults.

Activities have also been held for the kids each Saturday at the market, helped by local educators and the County’s Extension district. The first cooking demo, had 40+ kids all helping to make a spring salad with a vinaigrette dressing made from local fruit vinegars sold at the market. Parents were incredulous, watching their kids who “never eat salad” chow down on local greens, fresh peas, radishes, carrots, green onions and herbs!

With only enough money left to give out tokens at one more market, we are still keeping the POP Club registration booth open anyway, so kids can still get their Passport stamped, with a surprise reward after 10 stamps. New kids will get a re-usable shopping bag and button and parents will be encouraged to buy tokens for their kids to spend each week.

We have over 600 kids signed up as POP Club members and have been giving out $1,300 each week to children eager to buy and eat local produce. We need to keep this going, the kids are loving it! I will be searching for other grants to fund either next year’s spring/summer markets or our winter market which starts in November. I would love to have the kids try all the delicious root veggies, winter greens, apples, pears, persimmons and nuts….I’ll be busy writing grants this summer!

About the author: Jackie Hammond-Williams is the manager of Oregon City Farmers’ Markets.

Photos: Barbara Fleming

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