May 22, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

As youngsters clapped and swayed to the upbeat music, into their classroom bounded a character dripping with bushels of produce. They call him Mr. Produce Man and his mission is to help educate children on the importance of eating produce.

Inside the heavy-headed costume was Martha Slemp, Breckinridge County Extension agent for Family and Consumer Science. Helping Mr. Produce Man deliver his message was his trusted assistant Lynnette Allen, Breckinridge County Extension agent for 4-H/Youth Development.

Their audiences are students in kindergarten through third grade at five elementary schools in the county.

Mr. Produce Man belongs to the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. Slemp said she learned about him while taking a graduate course on behavioral health at the University of Kentucky. Breckinridge County is the first Extension office in the state to reserve him.

"I thought this would be a good way, if I could possibly get it, for Lynnette and I to collaborate on a program in the county with the kids," she said.

Slemp contacted the health department several months ago to reserve the costume while Allen made arrangements with the schools.

"The point is to spread the message about five a day," Allen said. "Along with some of the information that came with the costume was information that Kentucky ranks low in terms of eating produce. So, we felt this was a great, fun way to reach the children with an important message."

And the children are having a great time dancing to the music, guessing what Mr. Produce Man's nose is made of, and singing a song about the importance of eating five a day. His nose, by the way is a mango.

"We hope to accomplish an awareness that eating fruits and vegetables is important and just to make them aware and introduce them to some new produce," Allen said.

"We also bring out that produce can be fresh, frozen or in cans and we show them that," Slemp said. "Also, let them know that they can be used for snacks. It's a fun way to get the kids involved. We have music and Mr. Produce Man dances around and helps out."

Allen uses little veggie people to introduce students to some of the produce that actually is on Mr. Produce Man and they try to find them on him. Then as part of the evaluation the teacher asks the students did he have a particular type of produce on him such as a turnip. The Extension office will get numbers from the schools to see how much attention students paid in terms of what was on him.

They also have handouts for each child, and as nutritional recommendations are moving toward nine fruits and vegetables a day, a frisbee that says Eat Five to Nine Today! is handed out to the students as well.

A followup activity is left with the teacher to complete with the students to see if they learned any new fruits and vegetables.

Melanie Board, Custer Elementary first grade teacher, said the program was very hands-on which is just what KERA expects.

"It made us very aware of how little we eat fruits and vegetables and I think with the dancing and hands-on activities, it got the kids very involved and they'll remember to eat those fruits and vegetables," she said.

Board said they will do some followup activities in the classroom. The class talked about nutrition earlier in the year so this was a good review, she said.

With all the dancing and moving about, the costume can become quite warm. But Slemp said it had been fun.

"It's exciting to do something a little different and out of the ordinary and Lynnette and I have had a lot of fun doing it," Slemp said. "We just have a good time with it."


Martha Slemp, Lynnette Allen, (270) 756-2182