By Olivia Swanson and Rebecca Williams, Americorps VISTA Volunteers
What a season it has been! For 16 weeks this summer into fall, the Power of Produce Club proved to be a lively addition to the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake Farmers’ Markets. The program run by CCE Essex offered educational kids activities focused on nutrition, agriculture and science. Alongside the games, crafts, and demonstrations, participating kids were also given the chance to taste test a fruit or veggie, and even received $5 to shop for produce of their own at the market.
Over the course of the season we learned about topics ranging from composting to MyPlate food groups to the water cycle, while kids had the opportunity to view live nematodes under a microscope, color their own canvas tote-bag, and set out on numerous scavenger hunts. Any market goer would often see cheerful kids running around with the craft they made based on the week’s lesson, such as pipe cleaner bees, water cycle windsocks, and scarecrow puppets.
Brave, eager, and even skeptical POP Club attendees tried new vegetables such as spicy breakfast radishes, arugula, purple string beans, green tomatoes, and more! With an open mind, kids ended up remarking things such as “It’s actually really good!” One youngster tried arugula at the Lake Placid market and declared “my tummy liked it, but my tongue didn’t!” However, he returned a few days later to the Saranac Lake market, ready to be served some more!
If you didn’t see kids running around with their craft or scavenger hunts, you might have seen them with their $5 or the result of their purchases. We loved to see youngsters walk around with berry juice-stained faces, or munching on a large carrot from the carton they just bought. While some kids entered each market with an open mind to what they would purchase, others came in with their eye on the prize. When handed her $5, one little girl jumped up and down exclaiming “I want orange squash!” Other kiddos went straight for carrots, corn, or watermelon!
Throughout all this excitement, we got to know dozens of children well as they would run up to our table each week, smiles on their faces, ready to see what the week’s activities were. Out of the over 300 kids reached by the POP Club, nearly 100 of them returned multiple times, often visiting us weekly. Through the relationships we built, we came to appreciate how great of an opportunity this program is. The Power of Produce Club offered families a fun and enriching experience for their children that was completely free. It brought families to the market and even allowed parents to do more shopping while their kids were engaged at our table. Children left with new knowledge, having tasted a potentially new veggie, and money to pick out produce to bring home – all while having fun!
In surveying parents, we found that a majority of families were coming to the market because of the POP Club (kids begging in some cases) and an even greater majority indicated that they spent more at the market because of the POP Club. Not only is this great for families and resulted in a more engaged program for us, but it also meant more in the pockets of our local producers. In total, $2,745 was handed out to kids this season and spent on local produce at the market! It was wonderful to see kids empowered by the opportunity to have their own money and ability to choose which produce they would spend it on, all while supporting our local vendors.
All the POP Club hub-bub happening at our tent served an additional purpose and aided our other service of exchanging SNAP tokens for use at the market. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, is a federal program that provides low-income families with funds to purchase groceries. With such a bustling table, SNAP users were not singled out by being there, hopefully reducing stigma and increasing confidentiality. We were thankful to be able to provide individuals in the community the opportunity to buy fresh, local foods with their SNAP benefits. Alongside our partner, AdkAction, we were also fortunate to be able to introduce the Double Up Food Bucks initiative at these markets. This program matched SNAP funds for users up to $20 for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. For example, if someone used $20 EBT to spend at the market, we would provide them an additional $20 in tokens for free! That meant that they now had $40 to spend at the market! AdkAction, a local nonprofit, offered these families an additional opportunity to eat local for less with their Fair Food Pricing initiative. Having our tents side-by-side allowed us to refer SNAP recipients to them to enroll in the program which provides a 30% discount on local foods. These Fair Food Pricing coupons could be used with the vendors at the market as well as with the Hub on the Hill in Essex. With the combination of these food access initiatives, the Lake Placid and Saranac Lake markets became a great destination for income-constrained families to shop locally. Both The POP Club and the SNAP exchange kept our table busy and brought more people out to the market!
With such a successful program, we are already counting down the days until next season when we can engage with the community and see our POP Club friends again!
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