I found some hope for the future! It was just in town at the local elementary school. I’ve been working in my local community with the Cherokee Nation and Tahlequah Best to bring the Tahlequah Farmers' Market foods and experience to area students in Northeast Oklahoma.
In the first year, the Farmer’s Market to School program provided “Veggie Bucks” to 257 third grade student in Tahlequah area elementary schools, with spending power of $6.00 per child. This year the number of schools, students and spending power is increased to serve 355 students at five schools with $12.00 worth of veggie bucks to spend.
Prior to the farmers' market coming to the schools, I provide a classroom presentation with a local farmer. Along with presenting, I get to ask questions about how many students garden, shop at the farmers’ market, cook and what their least and most favorite foods are.
This year my neighbor, Calvin White of Barefoot Farms, is assisting me at the schools. Calvin is a twelve year old, organic farmer, who has worked at the local farmers market his whole life. He has proved to be a great speaker and advocate for organic farming and farmers markets. He has been praised by the teachers and principals for his excellent presentation skills – not to mention looked up to by the students!
Calvin answered students’ questions about what it is like to be a farmer and to sell at a farmers' market. He described the chicken tractor and how it works. In another story about the winter chores, Calvin was describing a typical morning and said, “then my dad will slop the hogs”…I heard one or two snickers and meant to clarify, but we moved on. At the end of the presentation one young guy asked, “why does your dad slap the hogs?” We all laughed and had a good time describing the word “slop” and what all that means.
The student’s had great experiences with their own vegetable shopping and market moments with goats, bunny and chickens as well as cooking with family.
In 2014, Shining Waters Consulting designed and implemented this program to meet the tribe and school’s needs for more education and experiences with local vegetables and a desire to promote the Tahlequah Farmers' Market. We knew from research that vegetable incentives are utilized in about 20% of the cases where they are given out. We decided to be creative and bring the market to the school for 100% redemption of the incentives. Well, almost- we did see a few young girls putting one veggie buck away as a souvenir!
With a grant from the Centers for Disease Control, the Cherokee Nation Healthy Nations has continued to provide funding to schools in the fourteen county region, and specifically some targeted Farm to School grants. The projects have included building raised bed gardens, orchards, greenhouses- even chickens and incubators. The Cherokee Nation Healthy Nations focus on nutrition and healthy lifestyles fits right into Farm to School ideals.
We have learned a great deal about our young people and their excitement about local foods and farmers in this project. At one school, the Parent Teacher Organization is making plans to raise funds to bring back the Market in the spring.
by Pam Kingfisher, SSAWG SOUTH Regional Lead for the National Farm to School Network