Engaging Children at Local Farmers Markets
By Francie Szostak
Each time I work with a school group in Wellspring’s educational gardens, it still surprises me how many children truly do not realize that onions and carrots grow under the ground.
“No way! That’s where carrots come from?” is a commonly heard phrase while we harvest the storage crops each fall. To many, veggies and eggs come from the grocery store, not a local farm.
As the farmers markets of Southeastern Wisconsin begin to flourish, so do the opportunities to teach your kids about where our food comes from, and how to eat healthy and local.
It’s precisely this disconnect between today’s youth and their food sources that directly correlates with the rise of obesity rates among children. Research has repeatedly shown that when a child’s exposure and interaction with the source of their food increases, so does their willingness to consume fruits and vegetables.
Visiting local farmers markets with children is one of the simplest ways for parents to do just that. As the farmers markets of Southeastern Wisconsin begin to flourish, so do the opportunities to teach your kids about where our food comes from, and how to eat healthy and local. Below are a few ideas for parents to further engage their children while at the market. The more children become active participants, the more excited they will be to get home and taste their selections!
• Eat the Rainbow Challenge – A plate featuring a broad range of colors is one of the best ways to ensure your children are eating all the essential nutrients their growing bodies need. At your next visit to the farmers market, challenge your kids to pick a fruit or veggie that corresponds with every color of the rainbow. Serve up their selections for the next sit-down meal and have a conversation as a family about healthy eating.
• Chat with farmers – While at the market, encourage your children to talk to different farmers. Questions to ask: Where is your farm? Do you have animals on the farm? What do you feed your animals? What is your favorite kind of veggie? When were these picked? How should we cook these? Farmers love to chat about their passion and will be happy to answer questions.
• Math at the Market – The farmers market is the perfect spot for a lesson on money and budgeting. Tell your kids they are in charge of picking out ingredients for tonight’s meal and give them a budget to stick to. After the experience, ask them if they faced any particular challenges while staying under budget. This is a great way to also facilitate a conversation on costs vs. benefits of buying locally.
• Seasonality – Encourage children to notice the change of produce available at the farmers market throughout the season. Keep a chart at home of your produce observations week by week. Are any of the crops consistent throughout the season? Do any of the early spring crops reappear come fall? If you have a garden at home, compare the produce growing in the yard to what is available at the market.
• Veggie Identification – Play “I –Spy” farmers market edition. As you approach a booth at the market, call out “I spy… Kale” and have the children carefully point to which veggie they believe to be kale. Encourage them to keep guessing till they correctly identify the vegetable. This is also a great game to play with plants growing in a backyard garden
* Challenge – Ask the farmer to play along and take the lead, trying to stump the whole family. Parents can learn new veggies this way too!
Wellspring is a certified Organic Farm and CSA as well as a not-for-profit education and retreat center whose mission is to inspire and teach people to grow, prepare and eat healthy food. Educational opportunities are available at Wellspring throughout the year including farm tours, workshops and learning opportunities for individuals, families, school and community groups. Classes and programs include home gardening, cooking with seasonal produce, food preservation, foraging for wild edibles and programs for toddlers, youth and teens.
For more information on Wellspring’s efforts, programs and events please visit www.wellspringinc.org
Francie Szostak is the Education Coordinator for Wellspring Organic Farm and Education Center. Through Wellspring’s programs, her goal is to provide opportunities for the local community to experience and connect with where our food comes from. When not snacking in the cherry tomato patch, Francie can be found enjoying local food, music, the outdoors and embracing the culture of Milwaukee.