Studying the produce in front of her, the 7-year-old was anxious to begin.
“Can I start making my potato head?” Lilyana Hobbs of Vancouver asked several times.
The Produce Pals program, new this year to the Vancouver Farmers Market, exposed children to fruits and vegetables through discussions with farmers, educational games, demonstrations and tastings. After completing one activity each week, kids ages 3 to 11 earned a $2 token to spend on fruits and vegetables at the market.
The 10-week program, which cost $15,000 to organize, stemmed from similar projects across the country — including one in Camas — said Stephanie Haynes, partnerships and programs manager for the market. A pilot program began in summer 2018 at the East Vancouver Farmer’s market, during which 212 children participated and three farm businesses saw $662 in additional profits.
“We didn’t really know how it was going to go in terms of participation,” Haynes said. “But we were excited to see the level of engagement, and our farmers were happy to make a little extra money as well.”
On some days, as many as 70 kids participated, said Madelaine Cermak, a program assistant who led the activity Sunday. Exercises included tomato testing and feeling inside “mystery boxes,” which contained items like mushrooms and sticks previously chewed by beavers.
“Maybe their parents are trying to get them to eat vegetables. Maybe they’re here with their friends to try them and say, ‘Oh, it’s not so bad,” Cermak said. “I really like when they try something new. They see that not all vegetables are the same.
“It’s nice to see them be creative.”
Sunday’s activity allowed children to create potato heads by adding dinosaur kale, purple cauliflower, radishes and carrots — all from market vendors. Lilyana had a decision to make.
“Do you want, maybe, a cauliflower nose?” Cermak asked her. “Or, maybe, a silly carrot nose?”
Lilyana took the silly route.
“I wanted to be creative,” she said.
Next year, Haynes hopes to double the number of days at the market and hire a part-time employee to help run the program. Eventually, the goal is to hold the program every day the market operates, she said.