POP (Power of Produce) Club in Hartland Vermont

July 21, 2017
Hartland, Vt.
Nancy Nutile-McMenemy

Kids shopping for kohlrabi, lemon sorrel and champagne currants. Really? They are if they belong to the Hartland's Farmers' Market POP Club, which is held every Friday afternoon until Aug. 25 near Hartland's public library and field. What is a POP Club? It's a club that sets out to provide a fun way to have children learn about the local food system in their neighborhoods, talk to local farmers and try new fruits and vegetables.

Power of Produce started three years ago after Carol Stedman, of Clay Hill Corners Farms in Hartland, attended a workshop at the Vermont Farmers Market Association (VTFMA) conference. "This is the third year (of the POP Club), each year we've have over 70 kids...a lot of these kids are repeats. They know the ropes, they expect to have some fun, they are not afraid to try new things" Stedman said of the program.

POP originally started in May 2011 at the Oregon City Farmers Market in Oregon City, Oregon. From their website: It (POP) was created by the market manager, Jackie Hammond-Williams in response to a grant offered by Clackamas County, Oregon for programs that improve the community’s health. The Oregon POP Club brought together families and farmers around fresh produce at farmers markets. The program’s mission was three-fold: (1) Empower children to make healthy food choices (2) Strengthen and sustain healthy communities through supporting farmers and cultivating future farmers market supporters (3) Expand farmers markets from a retail location into a place where children can try new foods and learn about healthy eating.

Here in Hartland, POP encourages children ages five through twelve to make healthy food choices by offering educational activities, cooking demonstrations, and food sampling, in addition to providing each child with "three POP bucks" in market currency to spend on fresh produce. This incentive provides a way for children to engage in the local food system through conversations with farmers, buying local, and understanding the importance of healthy food choices. "This is live, real food and if they (children) are exposed to it they can really enjoy it in a fun way. We ask them to taste, and if they don't want to taste-that's ok but it's infectious because all the other kids are doing it" Stedman explains.

Children fill out a POP passport, collect the week's scavenger hunt list, visit the various farmers to answer the questions on the list, taste fruits and vegetables and fill out their passport to earn POP bucks. With POP bucks in hand they can shop at the market for fresh fruits and vegetables. Each week they also learn how to make the recipe of the day, something they can take home and share with their families.

Around the country, Power of Produce is catching on and surveys have found that children who participate in POP clubs influence their parents' food purchasing choices. And farmers markets who set up POP Clubs found an overall increase in sales for their vendors. Most children I spoke with tried new fruits and vegetables through the program and now request that their parents purchase them weekly for their family's consumption. How many adults do you know ask for kohlrabi or lemon sorrel?

Vital Communities of the Upper Valley is also spreading the POP Club program at farmers markets on both sides of the Connecticut River: Fridays in Newport NH at the Newport Farmers Market ; Wednesdays in Plainfield, NH at Edgewater Farmstand; and Thursdays in South Royalton at the Royalton Farmers Market.

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