“You get to dig . . . with a fork!”
With this simple, enthusiastic declaration, six-year-old Adeline Merritt shares a favorite part of her morning’s effort with the Kids R Farmers program at the 6701 Burnet Road Market. Adeline has just finished digging holes for some cucumber seeds. Next she covers the seeds with dirt and waters them. She’ll return to the market in a couple weeks to witness the fruits of her labor (literally!), and her parents, Joshua and Kelly, couldn’t be more excited. “We want [Adeline and her younger sister Emerson] to learn where their food comes from and learn about eating locally,” Joshua says.
This is exactly the goal of Kids R Farmers, a three-stage program that takes children through different lessons that follow the life cycle of a plant. “They start with stage one, called Kids Grow at the Market, where they experience veggies growing in soil, plant their own seeds, learn about good bugs and good soil and learn to care for a plant,” explains Paige Hill, one of the program’s teachers and the founder and director of Urban Patchwork Neighborhood Farms, which teamed up with the market to kick-start the program. In stage two, Kids Art at the Market, the children continue to interact with their seedlings while making arts and crafts related to their plants. “The projects reinforce what they learned in the garden and connect them with the concept of seasons,” Hill says.
In the third stage, Kids Cook at the Market, the burgeoning gardeners work with a local chef to combine their harvested produce with fruits and vegetables from the market to create a fun, farm-fresh dish. “This gives them an experiential understanding of seed to table,” says Hill.
Hill sees Kids R Farmers as a natural extension of the farmers market that benefits both the children and their parents. “While parents are already there shopping, kids can learn about the other steps in growing food that happen before they see the pretty veggies their parents are buying,” she says. “The market is a perfect place to show parents and kids how that food is grown and teach them how they can grow food for themselves.”
The program is open to children ages five to eleven, and begins at 9:30 a.m. every Saturday. Parents are asked to preregister their children so that they can be matched with kids of a similar age. A five-dollar suggested donation for each class is requested (but not required) to help cover the cost of materials. The little gardeners are encouraged to come to multiple classes, as each has a different topic and follows the plants through their seasonal cycles.
Of course, the lessons are about more than just growing food; they’re about establishing a way of life that will hopefully endure beyond childhood. “Connecting kids with food is a key to a sustainable, healthy future,” says Hill. “When they return week after week, watching the plants start as seeds and grow all the way to create new seeds, the experience is reinforced and becomes a lifestyle.”
The market’s director, Jean “J” Kruse, also emphasizes the bigger picture. “The most important thing is that working in a garden teaches patience and love for something, and the outcome is satisfying and builds one’s self-esteem,” she says. “And they get to play in the dirt—something kids don’t get to do much of these days.” —Cari Marshall