BR FLAIM student makes his very first farmers market purchase.
BR FLAIM student makes his very first farmers market purchase.
IMG_1478By Tina Dirmann
staff writer for BCBSLA Foundation 

Thursday’s Red Stick Mobile Farmers Market offered far more than your typical crop of fruits and vegetables. On this day, the new thriving farmers market also offered life lessons to a crop of elementary school students from Baton Rouge FLAIM. The students took over the market for about an hour, learning what a farmers market, well, is — and just what can be done with all that foreign-looking produce once it’s home.

Maybe we take for granted in this day and age, when Whole Food-ies

Mini-Farmers Market table, just for kids!
Mini-Farmers Market table, just for kids!

and farmers market-ites seem all the rage, that a lot of folks in our communities have never been to a locally supplied market. But when one Red Stick Market staffer asked a group of students who had been to a farmers market before, only two shot up a hand. And so, the lesson began, with each student earning a shopping token that allowed them to peruse a specially set up “mini farmers market, just for kids” (tables covered with carrot bunches and baskets of strawberries and tomatoes, to name a few). Everyone picked two items to take home, crammed into their own environmentally friendly, cloth mini-shopping bag. And I can tell you, the kids just loved it.

IMG_1451“I want the basket with the most in it,” one boy said, pointing to a basket of tomatoes. “No, not that one, that one,” he excitedly added.

The market is part of a wellness initiative by Fresh Beginnings, a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana grant sponsored program.

And then there were the tasting samples… Student chefs from the Baton Rouge Louisiana Culinary Institute were invited to the market (dubbed Chefs Community Outreach Day) to create tasty treats, demonstrating vegetables can, indeed be delicious. Samples flew off the tables — frittatas, sweet potato hash, squash and rice salad and mixed-berry salsa (the crowd favorite).

Sampling the sweet potato hash -- good stuff!
Sampling the sweet potato hash — good stuff!

Would you believe many of those students even went back for seconds, and even stacked up on the sample cups to take home?

“They were very open-minded and willing try everything,” said Chef Chris Nicosla, who led the croup of young student chefs creating each healthy dish. “More so than a lot of kids I’ve worked with in the past. But I think all these cooking shows that are all over TV and other social media outlets, it’s really exposed them to more foods than ever and that’s made a difference in what they are willing to try.”IMG_1479

“This is the first time a lot of these students have had the opportunity to try foods like this,” added P.E. Teacher Bonnie Richardson. “And it lets them see that food doesn’t just come from a grocery store. It’s grown by farmers, our local farmers, and you can buy it here. It’s a wonderful experience for them. And they are having a blast.”

Of course, the parish’s ever-present Brec on the Geaux mobile playground truck was also on hand (another Challenge Grant supported program), offering opportunities for play and exercise. And at the end of the day, each kid left with their “Sprouts bag” full of produce, food samples a recipe for kale chips… And a

More please? Going back for a second serving on the berry-good berry salsa! Told ya that was good stuff.
More please? Going back for a second serving on the berry-good berry salsa! Told ya that was good stuff.

promise that when they return with mom and dad, the kids will each get $2 in tokens to spend at the kids’ table (see that, a very clever way to entice the kids into dragging parents out to the market — love it!).

“We’re hoping the kids will go home,” said Richardson, “and say, ‘Hey mom, I tried this blueberry and strawberry salsa thing. Can we try to make it, too?”

The event followed a Meet the Farmer Day at Ryan Elementary School, part of an overall push to introduce kids to the concept of eating healthy, eating local. Farmer Theda Little brought her “laying hen” and a batch of fresh eggs.

Local farmer introduces her "egg-laying hen" to the kids of Ryan Elementary school, part of Meet the Farmer day.
Local farmer introduces her “egg-laying hen” to the kids of Ryan Elementary school, part of Meet the Farmer day.


“The kids went nuts,” said Fresh Beginnings Project Director Lyndsi Lambert. “They asked Theda lots of great questions, including ‘If I take my egg home and put it under a pillow, will it hatch?’ ”

Theda also offered a tasting, using her hen’s fresh eggs to make spring rolls with local zucchini and squash (from the Red Stick market) with a dipping sauce. And they loved it!”
The effort is Baton Rouge’s first farm-to-school program, said Lambert, who pushed for the initiative after principals partnering with our various Fresh Beginnings programs voiced concerns. The program is funded through a grant from the USDA, but was created to work in conjunction with the Fresh Beginnings/Challenge Grant mission.
“Some of our Fresh Beginnings principals were saying, ‘Increasing P.E. time is great, but what about the junk food they’re eating,’ ” Lambert said. “Farm-to-school is a great way to help meet one of the goals of Fresh Beginnings, to increase healthy eating. As farm-to-school studies show, kids who participate in multiple components of farm-to-school report increasing their fruit and vegetable consumption by one serving a day.”
The kids at Thursday’s farmers market may not know all that, but it doesn’t matter. They got the message all the same — farmers market shopping is fun, good for you, and makes great food, too. And, indeed, that’s a life lesson these students aren’t likely to soon forget.