I’m so excited to bring you the second post in my series highlighting Seattle Vegans and Influencers (if you missed the first one click here!). Today’s guest is Natalie Evans, Director of the Bellevue Farmers Market. We are so lucky to be surrounded by farmers markets in the Seattle area, and the Bellevue market is one of my favorites, as it is conveniently located in my church’s parking lot! Today’s post is slightly different, as Natalie isn’t actually vegan herself, though the work she is doing to make fresh produce available to kids is so important that I would be remiss to exclude her!
Natalie has brought a new program to the market this summer, geared towards elementary aged kids (gulp—this now includes David—how did that happen?) at one of our local farmer’s markets called POP Club—Power of Produce. The program seeks to engage with kids—teaching them about new produce, helping them to purchase produce (yep, kids get market tokens each week!), and make shopping for fruits and veggies fun….which makes eating fruits and veggies fun too! My kids obviously love it, though I would venture to say that even kiddos who might be more reluctant about trying new foods will really enjoy it! Before I get too far ahead of myself, I’ll hand it over to Natalie so that you can hear more about the POP program from the expert!
^^^ This guy ate a half flat of raspberries—he’s obsessed! (And yes, that’s a jar of Firefly Kitchen kraut—they’re one of the vendors at the market!)
I have always had an interest in local, sustainable agriculture, farmland preservation, and gardening. I devoured books and documentaries in college, spent my weekends working at local community gardens, and worked for a farm stand for a summer in Colorado. I grew up in the suburbs of Denver, and there weren’t any farmers markets in my area, so when I moved to Seattle for college and took my first stroll through Ballard on a Sunday morning in 2008 I was smitten. Here was the intersection of everything I loved: good, fresh food, human connection with the people that grew it, and the local community celebrating the seasonality of the earth! I shopped the Seattle markets all through college before moving to the Eastside in 2012 to work at Bellevue Presbyterian Church. While there I heard about volunteering at the Bellevue Farmers Market and jumped at the opportunity! I got to know the previous market director—Lori Taylor—well over my years there, and last year she called me to ask if I’d be interested in taking over. July marks the completion of my first year with the Bellevue Farmers Market, and what a wonderful year it’s been!
How large is the Bellevue Farmers’ Market? How many farms are represented? Are they all local to Washington?
The market this season has 48 vendors with 19 farms representing 10 counties in Washington. We only allow Washington state farmers and vendors to sell at our market.
^^^ The cherries we got from Collins Family Orchards were so yummy! David was quite proud of his shopping bag too!
Tell us about the POP program. How does it work? How long does it run? Who is the target audience? What are your goals with the POP program?
The POP Club is a new, FREE kids program we’re offering at the market for kids age 5-12. This program provides a fun opportunity for children to engage in the local food system through conversations directly with farmers, educational games and demonstrations, and exposure to new fruits and vegetables every week! In addition to fun and educational activities each week, POP Club kids receive their own reusable shopping bag, $2 in market money to spend on fruits and vegetables each week, and a “Passport to Health” that gets stamped for participating in the activities. One of these activities is the “Two Bite Club”. Every week when the kids check in, they have the opportunity to try—you guessed it—two bites of a different fruit or vegetable. The kids get a stamp in their Passport for trying these foods each week. If they don’t like it, they get a stamp reward for trying it, and if they do like it they can choose to spend their $2 of market tokens to buy it. It’s as simple as that! Experimentation and celebration.
^^^ David was hard at work on his passport. Jonathan was still hard at work on those raspberries.
The Club’s vision is to allow kids to make their own shopping choices, which is empowering! In other markets that have started a club like this, kids have been found to actually eat what they buy—which means more kids are eating fresh, local, nutritious produce every week. The POP Club familiarizes them with new vegetables that they might not otherwise interact with, and helps them practice open It also teaches the kids financial literacy. They can choose to spend their $2 tokens every week, or they can choose to save them and have more purchasing power as they do so. It also helps our farmers, as the $2 market tokens the kids spend increase their market sales and allows for more interaction between families and the farmers, further connecting our POP Club kids to the food we eat every day!
Education, collaboration, celebration, and accessibility are the key tenants of our market. My hope for this first pilot year is to get the word out about the program, get kids involved, and get them excited about trying new food! Education is offered through weekly activities and increased interaction with farmers. We worked hard to gather sponsors and grants so the Club could be free and accessible for all kids. Celebration is woven throughout the program: in the trying of new foods in their proper seasons, getting to know the faces and stories of the people who grow our food, and enjoying the market with friends and neighbors.
In the future I would love to see the POP Club grow to include collaboration with local schools, creating a common curriculum that teachers and our POP program can use alike to decrease summer learning gaps. I have a vision of field trips to vendors’ farms, partnership with other hands-on learning organizations, and an expansive POP Club “Plus” mentorship program with kids who “graduate” from the Club to continue learning about the food system through mentor relationships with local farmers, nutritionists/other health care professionals, chefs, and food related business owners. There are so many possibilities!
The POP Club runs every week at the market through August 25th. 🙂
The first week was a blast! 53 kids signed up at the market, got their free shopping bags and Passport, and had fun exploring the farm stands with our market scavenger hunt. We had snap peas from Growing Washington and cherry tomatoes from Alvarez Farms the kids got to try for their “Two Bite Club” stamp. Many had already tried these foods, but we saw a number of kids who tried a tomato for the first time! That is no small step for a 5 year old to take, and we applauded them for their bravery, even if they didn’t like what they ate. Parents who stopped by the booth were thrilled with the Club’s offerings for their kids. Some were not accustomed to taking their time at the market—they commented on having a lovely evening strolling through the market with their kids and getting to know the farmers better. One mom even took a scavenger hunt activity for herself, laughing as she said “I need to learn this stuff as much as she does!”
It was a great starting week to our Club. Can’t wait to see what the future weeks will hold!
^^^ I got in on the scavenger hunt action too—it was fun!
If you’re local to the area I highly encourage you to stop by and check out the program! David has loved it, and looks forward to the market every week! And Jonathan looks forward to raspberries—lots of them!