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Program Gives Children Purchasing Power at Farmers Markets

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    Eleanor Bowie, 8, of Hartland, Vt., smells a piece of dill before tasting it at the Clay Hill Corners Blueberry Farm booth at the Hartland Farmers Market while taking part in the Power of Produce Club at the market in Hartland, Vt., on July 7, 2017. It was Bowie's first time visiting booths, tasting vegetables and answering questions on the quiz. "I love it," she said. "I get to try things on the quiz." (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Aleksandra Cirovic, 9, and her sister Elizabetta, 7, of Woodstock, Vt., sample cucumbers at the Clay Hill Corners Blueberry Farm booth at the Hartland Farmers Market while taking part in the Power of Produce Club at the market in Hartland, Vt., with their grandmother, Toni Vendetti, of Hartland, on July 7, 2017. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Geoff Hansen

  • Power of Produce Club Passports keep track of children's attendence and the market and offer incentives at the Hartland Farmers Market in Hartland, Vt., on July 7, 2017. During the market, children who successfully participate are given coupons to buy produce. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Power of Produce Club Passports keep track of children's attendence and the market and offer incentives at the Hartland Farmers Market in Hartland, Vt., on July 7, 2017. During the market, children who successfully participate are given coupons to buy produce. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/11/2017 10:01:32 PM
Modified: 7/11/2017 10:01:35 PM

Bribing kids into eating their vegetables is one of the oldest tricks in the book, and for good reason: It works. As Aristotle wrote in his Nicomachean Ethics, the act of making good choices — no matter the reason — is what, over time, makes us good people.

The Power of Produce Club, or POP Club, takes that idea to the next level by offering kids free “money” tokens, called POP Bucks, when they participate in the program. Kids earn the POP Bucks after completing a produce-themed activity, like a scavenger hunt or an art project. They can then use the tokens to choose fresh produce from local farm vendors. Various sponsors reimburse the vendors for the items they give away.

Though the program isn’t entirely new to the Upper Valley — it’s now in its third year at the Hartland Farmers Market — last week it popped up (pun intended) at the Newport Farmers Market, the Royalton Farmers Market and at Edgewater Farmstand in Plainfield.

“We were just so inspired by the success of the program in the Hartland Farmers Market, and we wanted to spread it around,” said Becka Warren. Warren is the special projects coordinator at Vital Communities, which facilitated the expansion of POP Clubs in the Upper Valley.

“It’s so important for kids to feel like they have a place at the farmers market, and to feel empowered to make their own decisions to try new things,” she added.

The POP Club originated in 2011 at the Oregon City Farmers Market. Since then, the clubs have been sprouting up around the country. The goal is to grant kids the agency to learn about and sample a variety of fruits and vegetables because they want to, not because they have to.

“The farmers market is an environment that makes it as easy as possible to like veggies,” said Lauren Griswold, summer programs coordinator at Vital Communities. “It’s fun, it’s vibrant. There’s quite a magic that happens there. It’s pretty sweet.”

According to a survey from the Oregon City Farmers Market, 72 percent of kids in the Oregon City POP Club ended up trying a new kind of fruit or vegetable as a result of the program, with 70 percent of parents reporting that their kids asked them to buy more of those items. And, as a result of the POP Club, vendors reported a 35 percent sales increase.

Carol Stedman, who directs the POP Club at the Hartland Farmers Market and runs the Clay Hill Corners blueberry farm in Hartland, said she’s seen similarly positive results. About 70 kids have signed up for the program each year, and Stedman said the kids’ involvement at the market contributes to a fun, interactive atmosphere there.

“I love seeing kids running through the market munching on a cucumber, or telling me they like snap peas better than snow peas when earlier that day they didn’t know the difference,” Stedman said. “It’s wonderful to see them asking questions and getting to know the farmers on a first-name basis.”

She added that this culture of engagement benefits everyone at the market, of all ages.

“I see big kids helping little kids with the activities,” she said. “And I see older people listening to what the farmers tell the kids. Sometimes you think that you should already know about something, so you think you shouldn’t ask or you’ll look stupid. But the whole game of this is to ask a lot of questions.”

POP Club organizers from other Upper Valley farmers markets are excited to adopt the program.

“It’s so important that kids learn where their food is coming from,” said Rachel Bigelow, of Foxville Farm in Bethel, who manages the Royalton Farmers Market. She added that the market has a slew of enticing activities planned throughout the summer, such as an art project that involves painting with vegetables, and storytime with the Royalton Memorial Library.

Edgewater Farmstand is an especially exciting venue, Warren said, because as far she knows, it’s the first farmstand to host a POP Club. And, after the first day of the program last Wednesday, Shannon Buskey, who works in the farmstand’s kitchen and will help run the POP Club at Edgewater, shared this excitement.

“Kids don’t really eat that well a lot of the time, especially when left to their own devices,” said Buskey. “We just want them to be more aware of what their options are. Loop them in while they’re young, right?”

Buskey had put together an interactive “POP Quiz” for kids to participate in, with such questions as, “Find the biggest veggie at the market. What is it? How much does it weigh?”

Encouraging kids to explore the world of fresh fruits and veggies will nourish a long-term appreciation for locally sourced food, Stedman said.

“I think you make lifelong habits around food when you’re younger,” Stedman said. “Once you’re older, you’re pretty stuck in your ways about what you eat and what you’re willing to try. This opens up a culture of eating more fresh food and less junk.”

Warren said she has high hopes for the program, in part because of its educational value for kids.

“They can taste many local fruits and vegetables, connect with farmers, learn about seasonality and do all those things you do at farmers markets,” she said. “They basically get to be little shoppers making food decisions on their own.”

The kids also get free reusable bags, and, depending on that week’s activity, a free plant, art project or snack.

And so Griswold had a slightly different theory on why she thinks the program will work: “It’s basically schwag,” she said. “Kids love schwag. Don’t we all?”

To sign up for the POP Club, find the POP table at one of its Upper Valley locations: the Royalton Farmers Market, Thursdays from 3 to 6 p.m. on the South Royalton Green; the Newport Farmers Market, Fridays from 3 to 6 p.m. on the Newport Common; the Hartland Farmers Market, Fridays from 4 to 7 p.m. on the Hartland Public Library fields; and at Edgewater Farmstand in Plainfield, where POP Club activities take place on Wednesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.

For more information about the POP Club, visit www.farmersmarketcoalition.org/programs/power-of-produce-pop.

EmmaJean Holley can be reached at eholley@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.


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