Inspiring the Next Generation of Farmers' Market Eaters
At the end of September, PCFMA received the great news that the proposal we submitted to the Specialty Crop Block Grant program managed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture was selected for funding. Our proposal, titled “Introducing Specialty Crops to Students: Consumption, Cultivation, and Careers,” will introduce California-grown fruits and vegetables to over 9,000 young people over the next three years through field trips to our farmers’ markets and to working Bay Area farms.
Our goal with this project is to encourage young people to try healthy fruits and vegetables in their raw, natural state. Elementary school students will be offered familiar fruits like peaches, apples, pears, oranges, and figs plus familiar vegetables such as carrots and celery. Middle school students will be offered many of the same seasonal products as the younger students, plus products such as corn, tomatoes, sugar snap peas, beans, broccoli, and kale. Ultimately, our hope is that these young people will become avid fruit and vegetable consumers and dedicated farmers’ market shoppers as they grow up and begin to make more food purchasing decisions for themselves.
We recognize that encouraging young people to adopt healthy diets will not be easy. As someone who grew up loving Saturday morning cartoons, I was repeatedly exposed to advertising messages promoting sugary breakfast cereals as the “chocolatey part of this balanced breakfast.” As I grew up and learned more about nutrition, I came to realize that breakfast cereals were not one of the recognized four food groups, so the contributions of those cereals to a balanced breakfast were dubious at best. Today my Saturday morning routine is more likely to involve MSNBC or HGTV than Cartoon Network so I can’t attest to the quality of the nutritional information aimed at today’s kids. But I am doubtful that it has shown a marked improvement over the years.
Combatting the mass media messaging about prepackaged food is a huge task, but we believe that if we are successful in getting students to like even one fresh fruit or vegetable, we have opened their eyes and palates to the possibility of more, putting them on a healthier path.
One of the most innovative parts of our new program, and one that I am most excited about, is a series of career panels for high school students. These panels will encourage students to consider careers related to specialty crops as farmers, chefs, food marketers or farmers’ market managers. For youth who have developed a love of local food, we want to show them that they can find a career that feeds their passions. This is especially important for students considering college so they can seek out the specialized educational programs that will support their career goals.
While we are just at the starting line of this work, getting to this point feels like an accomplishment already. This project was inspired, informed, and encouraged by the work of so many from inside and outside of PCFMA. We have drawn upon the important work of the many members of the California Farm to School Network and other innovative farmers’ markets when crafting our program and our curriculum. Dozens of PCFMA employees have piloted our curriculum and helped to develop a program that we can sustain while also maintaining our core function of operating certified farmers’ markets. And PCFMA Board members, especially those who farm and sell in our markets, have been fierce and vocal advocates for increasing our educational outreach to young people.
As we launch this project we send our thanks to all those who helped us along the way and to all those whose ongoing partnership will be needed to make this project successful.