Angie Brake of Rt. 18 Farm Market sets up a farmers market at Martin Elementary.
The sun is just peeking through the trees at Martin Elementary in Parkersburg,
West Virginia. Teachers greet school buses as they rumble to the school’s front
door. In the parking lot, frazzled moms tug bleary-eyed kindergarteners from
And over by the playground, Rt. 18 Farm Market co-owner Angie Brake has already filled long folding tables with fresh squash, corn, cabbages, cauliflower and more. Most of these fruits and vegetables were grown at Brake’s farm in Gilmer County. It’s a full-on farmers market, right by the monkey bars.
The West Virginia University Extension Family Nutrition Program hosts these pop-up kids markets at schools throughout West Virginia. The idea behind the program is simple — give kids more autonomy in choosing the foods they eat, and they will be more likely to try new things.
At Martin Elementary, FNP health educator Sara Dunn and nutrition outreach instructor Charlene Villers were on hand to teach students about the fruits and vegetables available. Brake was there to supply the produce, but also to answer any questions students might have about the growing process.
“A lot of them know their cucumbers, or their carrots or the fruit,” Brake said. “But it's kind of nice to see them want to try new things and pick out something different.”
But the markets aren’t only beneficial for kids. They’re good for farmers, too.
Growers who supply these markets are paid for every tomato, cucumber and pepper they provide. Over the last five years, Family Nutrition Program food access initiatives have leveraged over $2 million in grant money to put directly in farmers’ pockets.
Those initiatives include pop-up kids markets as well as Kids Market @ the Store, a spinoff program that allows kids to shop for fresh produce at displays inside local retailers. Growers also provide food for FARMacy, a program geared toward people living with chronic diseases that can be treated with diet and lifestyle changes.
“Local growers are essential to these programs. Having access to fresh fruits and vegetables goes a long way to helping people change their eating habits,” said Kristin McCartney, associate professor, public health specialist and WV SNAP-Ed coordinator. “But it’s a win-win. Participants get free produce and farmers get a reliable new market where they can sell the food they grow.”
Farming is a difficult business anywhere. But making money as a farmer in West Virginia can be particularly difficult. The state’s lack of flat land makes it impossible for farmers to grow acre upon acre of the same crop, like farms in the Midwest do. And most West Virginia farmers do not have access to wholesalers that will take their crops and sell them to retailers or food companies. That only leaves farmers to sell at farmers markets and farm stands, which can be unpredictable.
“You can have a bad week if it's too cold or it's raining,” said Spencer Moss, executive director of the West Virginia Food and Farm Coalition.
Kids Markets and other nutrition incentive programs provide something that is practically nonexistent in West Virginia agriculture — a guaranteed paycheck.
“This is absolutely amazing because farmers can plan to plant and grow a certain amount of product for this market — and get a good price for it,” Moss said. “And it's all determined before the season even starts.”
That helps farmers invest in their business and grow their operations. Since partnering with the Family Nutrition Program, Angie Brake and her husband Jerry have installed new high tunnels on their farms and purchased equipment. They also built a new farm store on the property, where they sell their own produce as well as baked goods, honey and meat from other local growers.
Moss said this is an example of how boosting agriculture lifts the local economy as a whole.
“This money goes directly to our West Virginia farmers and it's not going out the door to big grocery store chains,” she said. “It's staying in our local ag economy.”
WVU Extension Family Nutrition Program’s work is supported by the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program (EFNEP) from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service.
z rh 12/05/23
WVU Extension Service Family Nutrition Program
Call 1.855.WVU.NEWS for the latest West Virginia University news and information from WVUToday. Follow @WVUToday on Twitter.