Kids to Farmers’ Market Teaches Healthy Eating
Kale chips, roasted spaghetti squash, and kabobs made of watermelon, pear tomato, and cucumber complete with a pesto drizzle.These are just some of the recipes Baltimore City school students learn about with the University of Maryland, Baltimore’s (UMB) Kids to the Farmers’ Market initiative, a program designed for school-age children that coincides with the University Farmers Market—a partnership between UMB and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC)—held spring through fall at University Park Plaza.
“It’s a very well-rounded experience,” says Brian Sturdivant, MSW, director of community partnerships and strategic initiatives in the Office of Government and Community Affairs.
Today, nearly 23 million, or one-third, of children and adolescents in the U.S. are overweight or obese. “The Kids to the Farmers’ Market program, aligned with the goals of President Perman, aims to combat childhood obesity by educating the community and, specifically, school-age children about the importance of healthy eating,” says Heather Graham Phelps, MA, director of communications and marketing.
The University invites elementary and middle schools from its surrounding communities to participate in the program. This semester included Southwest Baltimore Charter, James McHenry Elementary/Middle School (JMEMS), and Calvin Rodwell Elementary School.
Students are bused in via a shuttle arrangement UMB has with the University of Maryland, College Park, and then divided into chaperone-led groups. Each group shops at the farmers market and then attends a chef-led healthy cooking demonstration courtesy of UMB and UMMC food services and a nutrition workshop with UMMC registered dietitians.
At the farmers market, each student is given a $10 voucher to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Many of the students live in what are referred to as “food deserts,” which make up one-third of Baltimore neighborhoods. Food deserts are low-income areas where residents have little or no opportunity to buy fresh produce. One in five residents in these areas depend on high-fat, high-calorie meals from corner stores and carryout restaurants.
“With the program, students learn about the nutritional values they need to lead healthy lives and that a variety of healthy foods are available to them and do not cost as much as they thought,” says Eruejerien Okoh, general music educator and string specialist with JMEMS. “Several of our students in particular bought pecks of apples for $5, and one remarked that it was ‘less than a Big Mac meal at McDonald’s and could feed [their] whole family.’”
“It’s remarkable what a little exposure to the unknown will do,” says Graham Phelps. “One of our students bought, and then immediately ate, a quince – and she liked it!
“Many of the children,” Graham Phelps continues, “have purchased staples, like onions, bell peppers, green beans, and apples, to take home and share with their families. I’ve heard them say, ‘I’m going to take this onion home to my grandmother so she can use it to make soup.’ The access to these harvested foods is tremendous for these kids.”
“We are grateful to UMB for providing this learning experience for our students,” adds Okoh.
Program organizers are looking for additional funding sources in order to continue this initiative in the spring. Ideas are welcome; please contact Heather Graham Phelps at firstname.lastname@example.org or 6-5020.