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Farmers Markets Bring Farm-Fresh Foods & Fun to Summer Meals

Posted by Danielle Fleury, USDA Farm to School Regional Lead, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition Farming
Aug 12, 2016
People near local cherry tomatoes
Summer meal and farmers market offerings include local cherry tomatoes.

This National Farmers Market Week, we celebrate a growing national trend that exemplifies the power of partnership in achieving common goals. Across the country, sponsors of USDA’s Summer Meals Programs are joining forces with their local farmers markets, realizing a multitude of shared benefits.  These partnerships increase access to the local seasonal bounty the summer months have to offer and help keep kids and their families nourished and active while school is out. Check out how three communities are taking full advantage of all that farmers markets during the summer months!

Winooski Farmers Market, Winooski, VT

As part of an effort to continue farm to school programming year-round, VT FEED is working with summer sponsors to serve local foods, offer food and nutrition education, and increase access to healthy foods for kids and their families during the summertime. Part of this effort includes piloting two summer meals sites at farmers markets in Winooski and St. Johnsbury.

They offer:

  • Locally sourced meals – Colorful plates served up by the Winooski School Department feature a variety of local produce, with a recent lunch featuring local zucchini, summer squash, cilantro, scallions, kale, and strawberries.
  • Weekend access – The markets are in full swing and serving up free summer meals on weekend days during the summer, when access to food and nutrition programs can be particularly difficult.
  • Benefits for the whole family – Both markets also accept SNAP/EBT, with purchases matched dollar for dollar up to $10 through Crop Cash, so benefits can be spent at the market on fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs to help families continue healthy eating habits at home.

Brooklyn Park Farmers Market, Brooklyn Park, MD

Maryland is no stranger to the trend of farmers markets serving as summer sites, with four farmers markets offering summer meals to kids and teens. But one program is flipping the model and bringing the market to the meal program! Every Monday from June 20 – August 15, the Brooklyn Park Farmers Market was held just outside of Brooklyn Park Middle School, a summer meals site in Anne Arundel County.  At the market, Shlagel Farms – a major source of local produce for the county’s farm to school programs – offered fresh, locally grown produce that could be purchased with cash, SNAP/EBT, and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits. The market became a hub of fresh, seasonal, local foods and healthy activities for the whole family: right on school grounds. This partnership also fosters:

  • Menu alignment- A recent summer lunch included local cucumbers, peaches, and blueberries- the same items available for purchase at the market!
  • Complementary activities - In partnership with the local Parks & Recreation department, the market also offers fun nutrition and wellness-focused activities.  The local library holds story time, and gives free books to children to encourage reading throughout the summer months.

The Mulberry Farmers Market, Macon, GA

Macon, Georgia’s Mulberry Farmers Market is a year-round farmers market in its seventh year of operation and its very first serving as a summer meals site.  The Bibb County School District, the Mulberry Farmers Market, and a local nonprofit organization combined forces to do what each does best!  Key ingredients to their success include:

  • A kick-off event – Dozens of children attended the market’s summer meals kick-off, which helped raise awareness about the market and its summer meals program. Kids enjoyed a delicious salad featuring local greens and vegetables, cheese, and apple slices, along with fun and free activities that kept them moving all day long.
  • Engaging with producers - The site organized a scavenger hunt with the farmers market vendors, which led to some great conversations between kids and farmers!

These programs, and many more around the country, are showcasing the important role that farmers markets can play as hubs for healthy foods, activities, and community engagement during the summer months.  Interested in learning more about bringing the farm to summer meals sites? Check out USDA’s Farm to Summer website, and our Farmers Market and Summer Meals Program fact sheet for an overview of the partnerships that can take place between farmers markets and summer meals. To find out more about summer meals sites in your area, visit the Summer Site Finder.  Or to get involved yourself, consider becoming a site sponsor or helping raise awareness in your area.

Two girls enjoying local peaches at a Summer Meals Site
Two girls enjoy local peaches at a Summer Meals Site at Mulberry Farmers Market in Macon, GA.
Category/Topic: Food and Nutrition Farming