By Amanda Causey Baity
Taking your kids to the farmers market can be a fun outing, but that’s not all. It can also be a great learning experience for them. Here’s how. From an early age, I began taking my children to the farmers market to explain how farmers grow things and why eating healthy is important as well as teaching them about supporting local businesses. Here are a few activities that you can try with your family. I’ve also included a recipe with farm fresh ingredients.
1. What is local food?
Understanding what local food is gives kids a sense of appreciation for their meals, and shopping at a local farmers market can make this concept a little more concrete. By asking the farmers where their farms are located, they will understand that food is grown local to where they live. As a parent, you can share with them the importance of eating locally-grown foods to support financially the family farm and local community, as well as to reduce environmental impact by purchasing foods that require less gas mileage to get from the production to the consumption site.
2. What goes into making a meal?
How does that food get to the table? Eating isn’t a matter of microwaving something or boiling it. Food goes from ingredient to recipe to table. Children can learn more about that process, including picking out a recipe, shopping for the ingredients and then preparing the meal. For older children teaching the actual reason for including individual ingredients and the science that is involved with cooking is a way to keep them engaged.
3. What different types of farming are used?
There are quite a few adults who don’t understand how organic and conventional farming differ, but you and your kids can learn first hand. If you point out which foods offered are organic, it will spur a conversation about the differences between organic and conventional farming and also turn the conversation to the many different ways farmers treat their crops. For more details about different farming techniques in Prince William, please reference our August 2015 issue.
4. Do foods have different seasons?
Strawberries in January? That’s not natural… and your kids can learn that if you teach them about seasonality. As children visit farmers markets on a regular basis, they will see the availability of certain foods at certain times of the year, rather than all foods being available at all times like in a supermarket. They can ask the farmers questions about why foods grow better at certain times of the year due to weather and growing conditions.
5. What’s the difference between a fruit and a vegetable? The simple act of learning the names of all the fruits and vegetables can be a powerful teaching moment for you and your children. If you don’t know what to call it, how likely is it you will eat it? While getting your children to eat brussels sprouts is not likely, teaching them about how fruits and veggies grow and taste differently is a good idea. Talking about icky vegetables may increase the likelihood of a taste or two!
Tips for your trip to the farmers market:
Go early. You’ll beat the crowds and snatch up the best-looking produce. Be spontaneous. Sure, you know a few things you have to pick up when you get there, but if your kid eyes a gorgeous basket of peaches, don’t say no.
Bring reusable bags. Most vendors at farmers markets don’t have bags, so be prepared by bringing your own.
Carry cash. Some farmers market vendors accept credit cards, but not all of them do. Be prepared with cash for easier transactions.
Let your kids pick the best-looking produce. Tell them what you need, and one at a time, let them examine the fruits and veggies and make their selections. It may make your trip take a little bit longer, but it’s a great way to teach the kiddos how to make a good pick.
Plan your meals from the market. Make that smartphone do some work. Once you’ve seen the selection the market has to offer, pull up your favorite recipe app and let the kids help you decide what you’re going to cook for the next few nights (using the fresh produce from the market, of course).
Ask the vendors questions. Chances are, if they grow it, they eat it. If you run into a piece of produce you’re not familiar with, ask the vendor what it tastes like and how they like to prepare it.
Shop around. If you’re at a farmers market with a lot of vendors, don’t snatch up the first pretty red tomatoes you see. Look around for the best prices and selection before you pull out your wallet.
Try something new. Chances are, there’s plenty at the farmers market you haven’t tried. Try to select something new every time you go. Click HERE for a list of local farmers markets.
Zuppa Toscana Soup
When I was in college, I worked at Olive Garden. I loved working there, and my love for Italian cuisine came alive. An instant favorite was their Zuppa Toscana soup and I created a recipe that is almost identical. Almost every ingredient came from local farmers markets including the bacon, sausage and cheese! Hope you enjoy it!
- 5-7 slices of bacon
- 1/2 lb. hot Italian Sausage
- 5 medium russet potatoes, washed and thinly sliced
- 2 cups kale, chopped
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- 1 qt. water
- 2 cans chicken broth
- 1/2 large onion, finely chopped
- 4 medium cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
- salt and pepper grated
- Parmesan for sprinkling
On a greased cookie sheet, lay bacon flat and bake for about 15 minutes in a 400-degree oven, flipping with a fork halfway between. Drain bacon and crumble.
In a pan over medium high heat, cook sausage until there’s no pink. Drain well on a paper towel (or else you’ll have grease floating in your soup.) Set aside.
In your soup pot over medium heat, cook the potatoes, onion, garlic, chicken broth, and water until potatoes are cooked through.
Throw in cooked sausage, half the bacon, red pepper flakes, and salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
Add kale and cream. Let soup heat through and serve with the other half of the bacon. Sprinkle with Parmesan.