Just before winter break, children flooded the hallways at Enfield Elementary School in Tompkins County with handmade t-shirt bags loaded with produce slung over their shoulders.
Kids in Taura McMeekin’s third-grade class gathered in a circle and dumped their vegetables on the classroom carpet. They pored over their haul as if it were Halloween candy.
As part of a Food Bank Kids’ Farmers Market (KFM) pilot program, every student went home with a bag of potatoes, carrots, apples, onions, and other fresh produce. Students also had a hand in re- purposing t-shirts as reusable shopping bags and sorting the produce.
Taura and fifth-grade teacher Jill Browne coordinate the KFM. “Providing produce for all students removes the stigma of need for some children who won’t take home food in other ways,” Taura says.
With 78 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price school meals, all children at Enfield receive the benefit. “The need is high in our community,” Taura says. “Having bags of produce go out to all students gives the idea that everyone gets hungry and healthy food is for everyone.”
Sixteen percent of Enfield residents are living below the federal poverty level. That’s 10.5 percent higher than the state-wide average. Last year, the Enfield Food Pantry distributed more pounds of food than any other partner throughout our six-county network of 157 agencies.
Randi Quackenbush, Food Bank Director of Community Impact, said Enfield Elementary has taken a holistic approach to integrating nutritious food. Enfield recently received a state Farm-to-School grant to get more local produce into school meals. Students also help grow a community garden at school and learn about agriculture, food systems, and nutrition. Principal Keith Harrington heard about kids “shopping” for free produce at KFM at Summer Meals sites and after-school programs. He reached out to the Food Bank to develop a plan to make a KFM available for all Enfield students.
Research has shown that a new vegetable must be offered 12 times before a child will eat it willingly. Letting kids pick out a new food has also proven successful in encouraging their enjoyment of it, making KFM an empowering experience that also gets fruits and veggies home to families who may not have access to fresh produce.
Tim Maxson, dad to third-grader Owen, thinks the KFM for all students is a great idea, whether kids get a favorite item or produce they haven’t tried before. “Some kids get their best meals at school,” he says. “And produce is plentiful in the summer, but it can be harder to get during the school year.”
Enfield will have seven KFMs this year. Several times, the available produce will be used in cooking demonstrations by Cornell Cooperative Extension, and kids will go home with recipes for the foods they try. Students from Cornell University’s Master of Public Health Program have created an evaluation process that will help determine the impact of the Food Bank’s KFMs and the Farm-to-School grant on Enfield kids and their families.
“Our community partners are doing excellent work with nutrition education,” Randi says. “It’s a good way for us to learn how we can integrate the Food Bank’s fresh produce with the programming our partners are providing.”