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Developing minds and taste buds

Celina Ries poses with her new Budding Farmers tote -- which is included in the welcome packet for the 10-week program. The children also get recipes, art project directions, lessons and information about 10 different fruits and vegetables.1 / 4
Annabella Marshall, with dad Chris, looks over the cucumbers at the Red Wing Farmers Market on a recent Saturday morning. Marshall is participating in Budding Farmers, a program designed to get children learning about -- and eating -- local produce.2 / 4
Celina Ries and her mom Courtney look over Celina's farmers market passport with Red Wing Farmers Market secretary Anita Otterness. The passport allows the children to talk with a different featured farmer each week.3 / 4
Celina and Courtney Ries purchase produce at the Red Wing Farmers Market.4 / 4

It's no secret that things like broccoli, kale and tomatoes don't always top kids' favorite food lists.

But a new program at Red Wing Farmers Market is working to get kids learning about the fruits and vegetables their parents often dish out at dinner time. Budding Farmers, a 10-week program aimed at ages 3 to 8, works to get kids — and their parents — out to farmers markets and farms, teach them about produce and get them interacting with the foods they eat.

"They'll learn to appreciate the fruit or vegetable and try it and not be scared of it," said Monica Irwin, founder of Northfield, Minn.,-based Budding Farmers.

This is the first year that Irwin has been operating Budding Farmers. The Red Wing Farmers Market is one of 12 Midwest markets and farms participating.

"It gets not only the kids but the parents in the market and it gets them to understand the foods better," Red Wing Farmers Market President John Anderes said.

Irwin was inspired to create Budding Farmers while she spent five years owning and operating her community-supported agriculture farm near Northfield. She also has experience managing local farmers markets in the region.

"I realized through those experiences, as a farmer, you want to educate your customer, but you have no extra time to do so," she said. "You work from sunrise to sunset."

Budding Farmers, she said, is a solution to that problem. Targeting the markets' youngest customers came naturally to her.

"I'm really passionate about childhood health and addressing issues of obesity," Irwin said. "The adults learn a lot too in the process."

The 10-week program is designed to show children where fruit and vegetables come from and how they're grown and give them fun activities to do with the produce.

When children enroll, they receive a Budding Farmers tote bag and binder — what Irwin calls a "fun book" — to keep all their information in.

When the children get to the market each week, they receive a "booster pack," four cards pertaining to that week's featured fruit or vegetable. One card contains information about the food; one card contains a hands-on lesson about planning the food, harvesting or preserving; one card features a kid-friendly recipe; the last card has the directions to an art project featuring the fruit or vegetable.

With their parents' help, children purchase that week's featured produce. They can then do the other activities at home.

Irwin said she designed her curriculum to highlight seasonal vegetables and fruits throughout the summer.

"I tried to keep the mainstays featured. There's sweet corn, tomatoes, spring onions, radishes, apples, strawberries," Irwin said.

The featured vegetable or fruit changes each week, depending on what's in season.

"Their knowledge grows as the season goes on," Irwin said.

Irwin said she worked with her mother — who has 20 years of experience as an elementary school teacher — and another Northfield elementary school teacher to make sure that the Budding Farmers curriculum is age-appropriate.

The last part of the program is the "farmers market passport." A different farmer is featured at the market each week and, as children meet the farmer and talk about how produce is grown, they get their passport stamped. By the end of the program, they will have had the opportunity to fill their passport book and learn about the growing process directly from the farmers.

So far, Anderes said there are between six and 10 children participating in Budding Farmers at the Red Wing market. He said he had hoped that more children would participate this year, but that it's a work in progress.

"The more we get kids involved in the market, the better it will be," Anderes said. "It's a place they can be comfortable in and they might get their parents to try fruits and vegetables that they might not have tried."

Anderes added that the program will be back next summer with new curriculum from Irwin.

"It's a great little program," Anderes said. "They learn to enjoy and appreciate a wide range of vegetables and understand the importance of having and buying fresh, local foods."

Children can still sign up to participate in Budding Farmers at the Saturday Red Wing Farmers Markets this year. For pricing and more information, stop by the welcome tent at the Saturday market or visit

Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.