SPRING MILLS — The final group of kids shuffled into the cafeteria at Potomack Intermediate on Tuesday afternoon, a buzz coming from the Berkeley County Schools summer program students as they eyed the colorful vegetables and fruits perched on the tables in front of them.
As the students waited excitedly at the tables, and the adults in charge finished refilling the baskets with fresh produce, West Virginia Department of Agriculture Planning Coordinator Nathan Bergdoll commented that those smiles were what it was all about, his face giving away the pleasure in connecting the students with healthy food from local farms.
“These pop-up markets give our youth the opportunity to learn about fresh, nutritious produce, where and how the food they eat is grown and a chance to meet the producers that grow it,” he said.
The farmers market was one of seven, at each intermediate school in the district that hosted summer programming, the initiative coming from a collaboration from BCS, the Department of Agriculture, United Way of the Eastern Panhandle, WVU Medicine and several local farms, including Spring Valley Farm & Orchard, Powder Keg Farms, Town and Country Nursery, Orr’s Farm Market and Young Harvests.
The variety of squash, peaches, tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, radishes, peppers and green onions in front of the students all came from farms not far from home.
Charlotte Norris, a board member from United Way, explained the farmers market idea started small and quickly grew, as the organizations came together to create a wonderful experience for the students. Not only did each student receive coupons to pick out some produce to take home, but each also received a reusable bag and took part in an educational activity that connected to healthy eating and living.
“Through the Promise Neighborhood Initiative, which falls under United Way, we’re involved in a variety of food initiatives because of our partnership with Burke Street School and the fact it sits in a food desert,” Norris said. “Some of the things we’ve done in the past was starting our community garden, summer food service program at the school, anything to make sure families have access to fresh fruits and vegetables.
“One of our former summer vistas came with the idea, ‘Why don’t we do a kids farmers market?’ I got on a call with her and with Carla (Toogan). She pulled in some other folks. Nathan had funds through his program, and so we wanted to make sure all six of the sites we’d be able to serve.”
Funds from the Promise Neighborhood Initiative hosted programming at Orchard View and Eagle School, while a specialty crop block grant through the Department of Agriculture helped fund the event for the other schools.
“One of the things we’ve always tried to do as part of the partnership with the Promise Neighborhood Initiative is partner with other organizations to bring those resources together for families,” Norris said.
Chattering animatedly in line as each student picked out vegetables, many taking the time to thoughtfully explain why the particular ones were chose, the students were connected with food they might not typically see on their plates.
Jennifer Miller, BCS registered dietician, shared the story of one young boy who went through the line, pointedly picking out a cucumber, because he’s never had one before.
“Many of the kids have never tried some of these things before,” she said. “For them to not only see but touch it and get to take it home, they’re much more likely to enjoy that in the future. It gets them excited, because they get to do this all on their own. Many kids have come through and said they purposefully got things they’d never eaten before.
“It’s really neat to see the kids try stuff they’ve not been exposed to before.”
In the end, that connection and those smiles are what made the day worth it, as the students finished up their activity with Berkeley County student Melanie Jimmerson and headed back to the classrooms with bags full of goodies.
“We hope that these students garner interest in growing their own food and potentially becoming our next generation of farmers, but at a minimum, they will be the next generation of consumers, so educating them on the nutritional value and the impact sourcing local foods can have in their lives and their communities is extremely pertinent,” Bergdoll said. “These markets touch on multiple aspects of the impact that local products can achieve.”