OWATONNA — The North Market, a farmers market at Grace Baptist Church, will open for the season Tuesday, and this year will offer the Power of Produce (PoP) Club for children and families.
“Medford had really good success with it last year,” said Jenny Kath, who coordinates both the Medford farmers market and the North Market. While Medford’s initial foray into PoP Club occurred in 2017, it was fully-implemented last summer, and “we saw a significant increase in the number of families at the market,” a majority of whom returned “week after week.”
The PoP Club is a farmers market incentive program for children ages 4-11. Parents/guardians can sign their children up for free to receive a weekly $2 market voucher to spend on their own fresh fruits/vegetables or plants that grow food. The PoP Club is brought to the North Market this year through financial support from The United Way of Steele County’s Strategic Impact Fund.
The PoP Club is a nationally recognized program that started at the Oregon Farmer’s Market in May 2011. It was introduced to Minnesota farmers markets in 2014.
“It’s good for vendors, good for the market, and good for (families),” said Kath, a registered dietitian and member of the Healthy Eating Coalition of Steele County. “Children can get engaged, explore the market, and get to know farmers.”
“Lots of city kids are disengaged from farmers and how food is really grown,” Kath said. In addition to the $2 market voucher, children can participate in several planned activities, including planting with Steele County master gardeners on opening day and sampling dairy and petting a baby calf to celebrate National Dairy Month on June 25.
On Tuesday, master gardeners will plant herb and vegetable plants with youth, and then children will be able to take those plants home with them, she said. “This was a huge hit in Medford last year.”
“I am very excited to be able to offer weekly activities that include the opportunity for kids to not only get fresh fruits and vegetables, but also have a nutrition component to help teach (them) the importance of eating nutrient-dense foods (that) give them the proper amount of fuel their bodies need,” said Caitlin Terpstra, a dietitian and nutritionist with Mayo Clinic Health System who has partnered with Kath to plan the North Market this summer. Hands-on activities serve as superb learning environments, and, by engaging youth regularly, she “hopes that they will take these ideas and activities and implement them at home with family to help encourage overall family wellness and interest in improving overall health.”
Parents can receive recipes each week at the market, and fresh, in-season food will be available to sample for children, Kath said. “We know when it’s in-season, it tastes the best.”
In addition, the farmers market “family fun day” that has traditionally been conducted at the downtown Owatonna farmers market each summer will move to the North Market this year, Kath said. “We’ll have that July 30.”
The North Market will be open from 4-7 p.m. this summer each Tuesday through Aug. 20. Vendors accept SNAP and EBT cards, Allina Health Bucks, and Market Bucks.
If an individual spends, say, $10 at the farmer’s market with SNAP or EBT, they can receive a $10 match in Market Bucks, meaning they now have $20 at their disposal for food, Kath said. Market Bucks are provided through Hunger Solutions, and, when people learn about them, “they are just floored by that.”
“I have a deep passion for promoting local foods and teaching individuals that eating nutritious meals doesn’t need to break the bank (and/or) cost a ton of money,” Terpstra said. The farmers market is a “great opportunity for people to directly connect with farmers as well as learning sustainable tips and strategies for planting fruits and vegetables of their own.”
Terpstra has “been a tremendous help” this year, Kath said. “We’ve worked really well together.”
Kath, Terpstra, and others are committed to expanding the reach of farmers markets to as many people as possible, hence the various outreach efforts and acceptance of alternate payment methods, Kath added. “We want to make sure the farmers market is accessible to everyone, not limit access to it.”