By: Kara LeClair, RDN and Kenna Ho, MS
As toddlers stir from their naps and parents shuffle in and out of the Burke County Early Head Start every afternoon, hellos and pleasantries are exchanged between staff and parents. The scene usually ends in a sleepy-eyed child walking out the doors with their caregiver, heading on their way until the next morning. However on Wednesdays at the beginning of this school year, the day ended just a little bit differently, thanks to an after-school farmer’s market pilot funded by a 2016 National Farm to School Network Innovation Award granted to Georgia Organics.
Rather than rushing off, parents lingered in the grass with their children just outside the front doors. Here, they reliably found two, or even three tables lined up under tents, sprawling with fresh fruits and vegetables. The Early Head Start Director, Allene Reed, warmly coaxed families to check out all the healthy produce that awaited them under the shade of the tents.
While at first, some walked by and continued with their routine, others wandered over with curiosity and found a pleasant surprise. Bright reds, greens, oranges, and even brighter smiles from farmer Pete Jackson and the farmers market staff all awaited the families under tents. Over 10 weeks, many families looked forward to the market each week, especially to farmer Pete’s collard greens.
There became a flow of regulars, a sense of familiarity in seeing the tent and a sense of curiosity pulling the families in. “What do y’all have today?” was a common and welcomed inquiry.
But the success wasn’t just in getting the families to approach the tents; farmer Pete consistently sold out of his produce. Peaches, sweet potatoes, peppers flew off the table, and the greens never lasted beyond the first hour!
Families were excited about the produce, grateful to be buying such fresh, affordable fruits and vegetables for their family, and to receive their weekly vouchers. There was an overwhelming response from parents, staff, and the community, who said the market made it easier for them to buy fruits and vegetables. Several times parents made phone calls while at the market, asking friends and family if they would also like some of the fresh produce from our friend farmer Pete.
Families did not come to the market just to buy fruits and vegetables. Each week Kara LeClair, Burke County Head Start’s Farm to School Dietitian and a Dietetic intern cooked up a delicious recipe for everyone to try. The recipes ranged from easy five ingredient sweet potato muffins to stuffed peppers and cold salads.
“The taste test always featured at least one of the items being sold that week, and aimed to show families easy and unique ways to prepare what they were taking home,” said LeClair. “One of my most popular taste tests was our shredded collard salad with tomatoes and cucumber. I saw a lot of ‘light bulbs’ go off for this recipe.”
In the South, collards are almost always cooked for a long time until tender and the vibrant green is lost. LeClair heard multiple parents and caregivers state that they had never considered eating raw collards. A very simple chopped salad became an opportunity to introduce a familiar food in a new way.
“Several people were put off by the idea of eating raw collards, however with some convincing many people tried it and were in fact delighted by the outcome,” said LeClair.
The final market day featured a special taste test and activity geared toward the children. The children had the opportunity to take turns using a food mill and crank out their own applesauce. They were then given a taste at the market and a small jar was sent home to savor at a later time. It was a great opportunity to engage children and give them a hands-on opportunity to connect with food.
Farmer Pete loved coming to the markets. Having grown up in the area, he chatted with just about every person that came under the tent. Because he was so connected with the community, he already knew many of the parents, or their mother, aunt or sister. So when Burke County Public Schools Farm to School Facebook page posted a photo of a child sampling some white acre pea salad from one of the first markets, it was not shocking to see his photo being shared over and over.
“I swear that photo made its way up and down the east coast,” joked farmer Pete.
As the market came to a close, caregivers, staff and parents begged for it to continue. In the busy monotony of a week day, it became a moment to pause, socialize, easily obtain great fresh produce for dinner, and to build a relationship with the farmer who grew it.
For more information on farm to school programming in Burke County, visit Burke County School’s Harvest Bright page. For more information on farm to school in Georgia and resources available to you, visit our Georgia Organics farm to school page.