Volunteer Jimmy Villafranca (Reed '12) talks with the kid of a vendor before market begins Sara Post
I remember going to farmers' markets as a kid in central Pennsylvania. I remember being six and sulking at the knees of my father. Being at the market meant being stuck in a wave of grown-ups watching the straw bag at his side fill with green foods that I did not yet know how to convert into meals I would want to eat.
Working actively to reverse this—to get kids excited about farmers' markets and fresh vegetables on a large scale—is a worthy mission I have the opportunity to take on thanks to Reed’s Internship Advantage program. Reed has partnered with Zenger Farm to find a seasonal intern to develop the brand new “Food Scouts” program at the Lents International Farmers Market each Sunday. Geared for youth ages 5-12, Lents gifts each Food Scout with two $1 tokens to spend on vegetables, fruit, or food producing plants. Meanwhile, the scouts hang out at the Food Scout booth and participate in activities. They also get journals to take home and write or draw about produce. Underlying the play, the goal is the engage kids in the market—teach them why to care about plants, how to spend wisely, introduce them to other youth of the community.
This sort of information can be found on the Zenger Farm website, but before a few weeks ago, the program remained a brainchild of market manager Sarah Broderick, and without leadership. Which is where I came in. Sarah met with me on a Friday at a crowded coffee shop and by that night I had alphabetized the sign-in cards for the 89 kids who had already signed up the week before (I entered the scene late), written the activity for Sunday market, and entered data for all of their emergency contact information. On Saturday I prepared: mixer bowl, blender, screens. A friend and I dashed to Reed College and raided recycling bins in search of papers to mash up. We bought Red Clover seeds at Naomi’s gardening store, simultaneously dropping off a few dozen “Join Food Scouts!” fliers and piquing the interest of Naomi herself, who advised us: Kids will learn no matter what. No need to force it.
Back at home we assembled and created—the activity of the week I’d decided to run with was seed paper. Why make paper with seeds in it? Because when you recycle paper, over and over, it’s not truly a cycle of sustainability. Insofar as paper comes from trees, unless the paper can be planted, it won’t make new trees.
Maybe about half the youth digested this idea. It being an international market, many of the families do not speak English. The rest still enjoyed making the seed paper—sprinkling flower petals and natural dyes on it along with the seeds and waiting for it to dry. In total, 62 showed up just that day, trickling in with their parents to get their journals stamped and participate in the activity.
Next week we’re examining stems. What happens, for example, when you add red food dye to a jar and stick some celery in it? By what biological mechanism does the stalk take up the color? I will stay helping until October 27excited already about the possibilities my role as Food Scouts director allows: to expand Food Scouts beyond the market, finding ways to get them interested enough in farming and local foods to continue to projects at home.
While signing kids up on Sunday, parents would shake their heads, puzzled: what’s the catch, they wanted to know. The catch is, I wanted to say, that your kid will get involved with the farmer’s market. At worst, they’ll be begging you to take them here. That they will grow and learn to eat foods that do their bodies good. At least, I’ll try my best to contribute to making that happen for them.