Friday, May 26, 2017

My summer interns have flown the nest...

Each year I train interns to do cooking demonstrations, nutrition education and SNAP outreach for 16 SNAP farmers markets around the state. The students are all Virginia Tech Human Nutrition, Foods and Exercise rising juniors or seniors in the Dietetics track. They are all eager for more community nutrition experience before they head out to work on their RD certification. Are you aware of how competitive it is to get placed in a RD program? It looks terrifying. Hug an RD today, because they worked hard to get there!

This year the interns are in the following markets: Blacksburg, West End, LEAP's mobile farmers market, Salem, Harrisonburg, Waynesboro, Lorton, Herndon, McCutcheon, Reston, Spotsylvania, Spotsy Regional, King George, Fredericksburg, Dale City, Historic Manassas, and Bird House. Phew! I did it! I got to visit many of these markets last year to see my interns in action and it was so eye opening to travel across Virginia and see all the differences among regions. I hope to do some more of that this summer so stay tuned for photos.

So what do these interns do? Good question! They do cooking demonstrations at the market each week starting in June and ending some time in mid August. They use a lot of these recipes here if you are curious. (Click the farmers market tab). They also do basic nutrition education at the farmers market using the Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables! curriculum. Can I tell you a secret? Back when I was a market manager for Greenmarket in New York I hosted the Department of Health to do cooking demos in the market using this curriculum. I remember watching them do it and thinking, "Gee that looks hard! I'm glad I just run the EBT machine." Doesn't life just come back around to bite you in the butt? Now my whole job is doing those cooking demos- or at least training others to do it. And now I love it! There is no better place to be in the market! Life is funny.

Anyway, enough about me.

One final responsibility my interns have is assisting with SNAP outreach, helping to get the word out to the community that their host markets accept SNAP and often double it. Speaking of, check out our brand spankin' new map of SNAP farmers markets in the state of Virginia here!

I also want to debut a SNAP promotional video my student Abby made with me using stop motion animation, because my job lets me have too much fun:

I hope if you are near one of my intern's sites this summer you will drop by and see them, as they are eager to teach you how to make the most of the produce sold at the market that day!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

I visited West Virginia and got inspired!

I got to visit the Charles Town Farmers Market this month while visiting family with my husband. There is nothing I love more than scoping out farmers markets in new places, especially markets in small but lovely downtown's. I know many small towns start their markets to bring in much needed foot traffic to brick and mortar stores on weekends, and I suspect that might also be the case with the Charles Town market.

I will admit I may be the most annoying person to visit a farmers market with, or at least be high in the running for that title. I have to look at everything, exclaim over it, attempt to make a dad joke with each farmer, and definitely need to talk to the market manager. I know that West Virginia has an excellent statewide farmers market association and I was excited to see the market's info table was piled high with information on the SNAP matching grant they have going, which seems to be funded by FINI.

The real excitement for me was when I noticed their kids programming; Charles Town Market Explorers! Guys. Ladies. Folks. It was adorable! I asked the market information booth about it and apparently this programming is led by a volunteer! Amazing! It takes place once a month, and the leader takes the kids around to certain vendors and at each one they either ask questions about food, farming or health or do a fitness activity. The sessions are run twice and last about 30 minutes each. I got to watch as a group of about 15 kids went around the market and heard about growing hydroponic lettuce and did jumping jacks with farmers. The leader of the group was great- enthusiastic and engaging, and the farmers seemed happy to speak to the group to share their wisdom. I really admired the program for it's simple, engaging style and how it worked in both food knowledge and simple activity. Go Charles Town! I loved it!

Youth activities at farmers markets are great for a variety of reasons- they mold the next generation of educated consumers and producers, they make your market a family destination, and if you design them right they keep family shoppers in your market for more than just a quick shopping trip. The Farmers Market Coalition's POP Club is probably the most famous of the farmers market kid programming world, but I would love to see examples from all over! Do you know of one? Let me know in the comments!