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Kids keep in touch with homegrown food at Farmers Market

Kale, chard and pumpkin—the plant, not the pie—aren’t words typically included in a child’s vocabulary. They will be soon if the Claremont Forum, organizer of the local Farmers Market, has anything to say about it.

With the recent introduction of the “Earth’s Children” education booth as part of the ever-expanding weekly artisans bazaar, Forum members are getting Claremont kids involved in the organic food craze one craft at a time.  

The market’s latest offering, made possible by a $1,000 grant from the city of Claremont and financial support from community groups, gives children the chance to get hands-on with market fare. With the community’s financial contributions, the Forum will be able to provide a year’s worth of educational booth activities that invite kids to touch, taste and learn about fresh foods as their parents shop for the products their children are discovering on their own. Market produce serves as the platform for a sensory learning experience that includes arts and crafts and lessons on gardening and composting.

“Kids are losing touch with where their food comes from,” said Jenna Lee, who oversees the children’s booth. “We want to get them interested and involved in what they eat.”

The kids counter is the Forum’s latest effort to expand the popular weekly outdoor market. What began in 1996 with 10 vendors operating out of the Rhino Records parking lot has grown into a block-long outdoor shopping center featuring more than 60 local merchants. As the market space has grown, the selection of traditional fruit and vegetable stands has expanded to include a range of locally-made products, from produce to farm-fresh meats, artisan cheeses, handcrafted olive oils, jams and even duck eggs.

Ms. Lee, a member of the Claremont Forum’s board of trustees, has long used the local marketplace as her go-to grocery-shopping destination. Her weekly meals are centered on the seasonal offerings. She hopes to arouse the same excitement in the children who visit her booth. With the obesity epidemic, she feels the program couldn’t be timelier.

“Making healthy decisions about food starts when you are young,” she said. “It’s important to give kids the chance to participate and get excited about fresh market produce.”

At a time when a slice of pizza counts as a serving of vegetables in a school cafeteria, science teacher Amy Barden has dedicated her career to promote healthy living for our youth. During the week, Ms. Barden teaches 5th and 6th graders at an outdoor science school in Yucaipa. Thanks to a fortuitous meeting with Ms. Lee at the Forum bookstore, Ms. Barden now also leads the educational component of the educational booth.

Ms. Barden blends her lesson plans with glitter and glue in an attempt to make the impromptu education course palatable for the kids who visit her outdoor classroom. Last Sunday, children learned about pumpkins by gluing seeds, beans and feathers to miniature orange gourds.

“I love getting kids hands-on with natural materials,” said Ms. Barden, who got crafty herself by decorating the booth with a string of pinecones and acorns. “Getting creative with nature is a great way to pique their interest.”

It worked well with 9-year-old Rafael Corona, eyes glued on his work. No novice to arts and crafts, Rafael worked nimbly at piling feathers and other goodies on his gourd to create an effective pumpkin helicopter.

“I love making things,” Rafael shared.

In addition to crafting, Rafael enjoys accompanying his mother, Maria Corona, to the weekly fair, where she sells items for Atkins Farm. After her vendor duties, the mother-son duo stroll the stands and, if Rafael is lucky, they collect ingredients for his favorite vegetable soup. He may leave the cooking duties to his mom, but Rafael is keen on taking part in the eating.

“Vegetables make you strong,” he said.

Ms. Corona is pleased to see her son enthusiastic about fruits and vegetables and their ability to keep him healthy.

“I’m aware of problems with child obesity and diabetes, which is why I’m interested in teaching my child about fruits and vegetables,” she said. “This booth is very entertaining, but is also very important in helping children stay healthy.”

Kids will learn how to thrive with the Forum’s help this year. As seasonal selections change, so will booth activities. The focus on pumpkins will soon subside as booth-goers learn about cornucopias and how to prepare fresh Thanksgiving feasts using market ingredients. Ms. Lee hopes that participants will become gardeners, applying what they learn to grow their own fresh harvests.

“We want to give them the foundation they need to see food in a different way,” Ms. Lee said.

The Earth’s Children education booth can be found adjacent to the Claremont Forum stand, next to The Diamond Center on Second Street.

The Claremont Farmers Market takes place every Sunday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Visit www.claremontforum.org for information.

—Beth Hartnett

news@claremont-courier.com

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