Young shoppers in St. Clair County, AL are buying their own fruits and vegetables and learning about nutrition at the St. Clair County “Pell City” Farmers Market.
In a program spearheaded by SNAP-Ed educator Cindy Harper, and the St. Clair County Extension Office, children ages 5-12 can receive $2 in Veggie Bucks vouchers to purchase fruits and vegetables from local farmers at the local Famers Market.
“We focus on ways to encourage our younger families to attend the market,” Harper said. “We also know that kids may be more willing to eat vegetables if they get to choose them on their own.”
The Veggie Bucks program is backed by community donations. Harper worked with the St. Clair County “Pell City” Farmers Market manager to solicit donations. It’s the program's first year, and they have received about $1,300 in donations. Harper said she gives out about 50 $2 Veggie Bucks vouchers to children who come by the Extension tent each week. At the tent, Harper provides nutrition education to the children and their families, while giving a sample of a recipe or taste of in-season produce. Parents are asked to register their children to receive their Veggie Bucks and the vouchers are spent that day at the market.
The vendors who accept the vouchers have a sign near their stand saying, “Spend Your Veggie Bucks Here,” so children know where to go. Children also spend time with the farmers asking questions about how the food is grown or what kind of plant is needed to produce the food.
“The farmers have been very receptive and always have special $2 baskets available for purchase,” Harper said. “Some kids with siblings often combine their vouchers for a larger purchase such as a watermelon. The hardest part for the farmers is waiting for the kids to make up their minds about their purchases as they are very serious shoppers!”
Harper provides other activities for children who attend the market, like a farmers market scavenger hunt and has partnered with a local librarian to read books that teach the children more about fruits and vegetables.
“If attending the market is a positive experience for the kids, we hope that it becomes a weekly outing for their families and encourages them to eat more veggies at home,” Harper said.
The market is open to accepting more community donations for the 2023 farmers market season.
For more information, contact Sondra Parmer, Alabama Extension program leader for nutrition programs, at (334) 844-2231.