Kids Farmers Market Program makes trying local produce easy and fun for young West Virginians.

Forget candy stores—farmers markets are even more vibrant and tasty. They’re bursting with emerald zucchinis, sunshine-colored carrots, and ruby-red apples. Unfortunately, candy and other processed foods are often easier pickings, especially for kids.

That’s where the Kids Farmers Market Program, a project with the WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program, comes into play.

In 2014, farmers and other folks in McDowell County wanted to host a market for kids. “We decided that we would bring the markets to the schools,” says Kristin McCartney, West Virginia SNAP-Ed director and WVU Extension public health specialist. The pilot continued for two years. Since then, funding from the Eye Foundation of America and support from TC Energy, formerly TransCanada Corporation, has allowed the program to spread beyond McDowell County.

Here’s how it works. A market will pop up at a school, child care center, or community event. Then, each child gets $4 in vouchers to spend on local produce. They, together with their families, can peruse the tomatoes or sample the squash. McCartney is a registered dietician, so she already knew the nutritional importance of fruits and vegetables. What she didn’t expect
was the community that sparked as a result. “The markets were impactful for the kids in terms of being able to independently make food purchasing choices,” she says. “But what I think was maybe even more impactful was what it did for the farmers in terms of capacity-building.”

Over the past few years, more than 5,000 kids statewide have filled their shopping bags. The money from the vouchers goes back to regional farmers. And the program keeps scattering seeds for good. “What we have seen is, in some communities where we did initial markets, local funders have stepped forward to sustain the project,” McCartney says. Even the idea of a mobile farmers market has caught on. At the time the program started, she says, people were just beginning to talk about tackling the food transportation barrier. “Now, this concept of a pop-up market or mobile market is very real and active in West Virginia. It’s fundamentally changed the way that farmers and farmers markets operate in the state.”

A key to cultivating a well-balanced diet is preventing food neophobia, or fear of trying new foods. Most of us fall somewhere on the spectrum. Some eat anything and everything at the Chinese buffet, and others order orange
chicken and white rice every time. “By the time you become an adult, trying new foods becomes even more challenging,” McCartney says. “It’s very important to food preference development to be willing to try new things. The way to get kids to do that is to introduce food in a fun environment and around their peers.”

The current growth of the Kids Farmers Markets is remarkable, but McCartney knows West Virginia will really reap the program’s rewards in years to come. “When these kids who we’ve been working with on this project become adults, that’s when we’re going to see real change,” she says.

posted on May 29, 2020

images courtesy of Keys 4 Healthy Kids

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Jess Walker
Written by Jess Walker
Jess Walker came to West Virginia to pursue her master’s degree in English, but stayed for the culture, nature, and stories. She writes for WV Living and Morgantown magazines. Her best ideas happen when she’s outdoors, preferably near a river and with a cup of coffee in hand.