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UK extension program got kids excited about the farmers market

Audrey Stearman, Addelyn Stearman and Liam Hash complete an activity at the Hardin County POP Club.

PHOTO: Katie Pratt, UK Agricultural Communications
Elizabethtown, Ky.

In Hardin County, a University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service program filled the farmers market with children excited to try new foods and buy fresh produce.

The Power of Produce Club is a program Dayna Parrett, the county’s extension agent for family and consumer sciences, started this year after a conversation with Brenda Thomas, president of the Hardin County Farmers Market board.

In the POP Club, local children of all ages earned up to $4 a day to spend at the market each Wednesday and Saturday. To earn money, they tried a featured food and completed an agriculture-related activity. Not only did children get to try and buy healthy foods, but they also learned about managing finances including food costs and savings, as they navigated the market.

“Some of our kids would come, and maybe they’d only taste something, or some of our pickier kids would come and only do the activity. They would only get $2 to spend,” Parrett said. “We did that on purpose to teach kids about finances, in that the more you did, the more money you earned.”

Parrett got tremendous community buy-in to support the club.

“I think it was great for the kids to try new things,” said Nathan Highbaugh, assistant vice president at Magnolia Bank. “One of the first experiences I had here was a teenager telling me he tried a beet chip, and they were really good. That was a really neat experience to see how excited he was to try something new and experience new things.”

Magnolia Bank matched a grant Parrett received from the UK School of Human Environmental Sciences, doubling the amount of money POP Club participants could earn and spend at the market. Farm Credit Mid-America sponsored the activity table. Hardin County Cattleman’s Association and the Hardin County Farm Bureau also provided financial assistance for participant incentives.

“Part of our mission is to get out in the public and let people sample and taste their different beef options,” said Mark Thomas, past president of the Hardin County Cattleman’s Association. “One day, Dayna decided to focus on beef, so we’re called it Beef Day and offered the kids all-beef hot dogs.”

Throughout the growing season, sponsors sent staff to the market to assist Parrett with the POP Club.

“It’s been a great opportunity for us,” said Lindsey Bridges, financial officer with Farm Credit Mid-America. “It gave us an opportunity to get out in the community and support local agriculture through the farmers market and through the young people that come here for POP Club.”

The program was a hit among children and their parents. The first club day, more than 60 kids came to the market, though Parrett only announced the club on social media. The next day, attendance increased to 96, and it grew from there.

“My kids and I loved POP Club. They got to learn about fruits and vegetables, were challenged to taste new things and learned about spending money,” said Amanda Stearman, Hardin County resident. “The farmers market has become one of their favorite places to visit, even when POP Club is not in session because of all they've learned.”

For Hardin Countian Devan Gaddie, the club enticed her son, who is a picky eater, to try new foods she had not had success introducing on her own.

“My kids walked up to the tasting station at their first POP Club, and I watched in disbelief as my youngest child willingly put a blueberry into his mouth and loved it,” she said. “Since then, he’s requested blueberries for dinner and blueberry bread, which was also a farmer’s market POP buck purchase, for breakfast.”

It also was great for vendors, as the club increased foot traffic and revenue on club days.

“There’s a lot of people in the community who still do not know we are here,” Brenda Thomas said. “All of these kids can’t get here by themselves. They bring their parents, and I have parents tell me, ‘I didn’t know you were here.’ It’s been great exposure for us.”

The UK Cooperative Extension Service is part of the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. Jointly with its land-grant partner, Kentucky State University, Cooperative Extension brings the university to the people in their local communities, addressing issues of importance of all Kentuckians.

Contact: 

Dayna Parrett, 270-765-4121

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