Strawberries or raspberries?
Carrots or snap peas?
Lettuce or spinach?
If you stop by the Lents International Farmers Market on any given Sunday, You’re likely to see children pondering weekly market purchases right alongside adults.
That’s because of a unique program called Food Scouts, which provides $2 in wooden tokens to children ages 5 to 12 every week they attend market. They can spend their tokens on fresh fruit, vegetables or food plants, choosing to spend it all in one week or save their tokens for an even bigger purchase later. Kids of any age can also participate in a different weekly activity focused on farming and food. From planting seeds, to market scavenger hunts, to berry salsa, to DIY potato heads, the market’s littlest shoppers can always find fun at the Food Scouts booth.
In its fourth season, Food Scouts is a program of Friends of Zenger Farm and is generously sponsored by Whole Foods Market. The goal of the program is to provide children ages 5-12 an opportunity to act as participants in a local economy and engage in making healthy food choices for themselves. Through hands-on activities and inquiry-based empowerment education, children are encouraged to learn and share food knowledge with their peers, which will lead to lifelong positive impacts on individual and community health.
“Whole Foods Market believes food is a community builder, and we’re proud to align ourselves with organizations like Zenger Farm and Portland Farmers Market that care so passionately about food access and security for kids and families in the Portland metro area,” said Megan O’Connor, Whole Food’s Associate Coordinator of Marketing.
This is especially important for the Lents neighborhood, as the primary audience is children and their families in outer southeast Portland. Located in and bordered by food desert census tracts, Zenger Farm is also part of the David Douglas School District (DDSD) which serves over 10,330 students speaking 67 different languages. Eighty percent of its students qualify for free and reduced price meals. Additionally, the program serves the communities surrounding several low-income schools in the Portland Public School District, including Lent and Kelly Elementary schools.
Children from diverse and low-income communities face the most risk factors associated with childhood obesity and hunger. These communities often have fewer grocery stores and farmers markets than other neighborhoods. This lack of opportunity creates a significant barrier to developing healthy lifestyles, making the Food Scouts program especially important. And so far, it seems to be having an impact. In the first three weeks of the 2016 market season, which began June 5, participation has increased 15% over last year. So far, almost 150 children have signed up for the 2016 program, receiving nearly $600 in market money to spend on fresh produce.
“Food Scouts is a living example of Zenger Farm’s mission to promote and educate about good food access for everyone. With each visit to the booth, Scouts take charge of their food choices, developing healthy habits that will serve them as they grow into adulthood,” said Anna Curtin, Food Scouts Coordinator for Zenger Farm.