Power of Produce Pilot Program A Huge Success at the Farmers’ Market

By BTLT Summer Intern, Hannah Leitzell

A love of local food should start at an early age and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust is helping to do just that through their new Power of Produce (POP) Club Program for kids, funded in part from a grant from the Senter Fund. Started at a farmer’s market in Oregon and now an initiative of the national Farmer’s Market Coalition, POP Club provides kids who join the club at BTLT’s Saturday Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm the chance to shop for their own fresh fruits and vegetables. POP Club supports research showing that kids who eat five or more servings of fruits and/or vegetables per day have stronger bones, muscles, and immune systems. According to the CDC, eating healthy supports physical growth and increases brain development and cognition. Plus, eating local produce promotes eating fruits and vegetables that are in-season and that haven’t been shipped from far away. POP Club and eating fresh, locally-grown produce, is a win on all fronts! 

POP Bucks, Harvest Bucks, and SNAP tokens

BTLT’s Agricultural Programs Coordinator, Julia St.Clair, manages the Farmers’ Market at Crystal Spring Farm and oversees POP Club. Participating kids check in with Julia at the BTLT booth to receive vouchers that allow them to make their own purchases at the Farmers’ Market. Each week, children receive four “POP Bucks” that they can spend on fruits and veggies of their choosing. Though still in its pilot stage, the program has been wildly successful. BTLT has had over 250 children sign up as of August, many of whom return week after week. 

On a sunny Saturday in August, I had the privilege of tagging along with my new 11-year-old friend, Sorrel, and her sibling Silvo, as they chose which fruits and veggies they wanted to purchase. Sorrel is an outgoing kid who will be entering middle school this fall. She loves coming to the BTLT Farmers’ Market with her parents, especially to get fresh fruit with her POP Bucks! As we browsed, we talked about all the different foods she and her sibling had purchased in the past. Strawberries and blueberries were at the top of their list, but they previously purchased carrots and mushrooms as well! We even ran into some other POP Club kids who were happy to tell us their plans for the Market. POP Club member Iona bought tomatoes with her POP Bucks and planned to make pizza sauce from them. She recently learned about paste tomatoes which are good for making sauce.  

Sorrel finally settled on purchasing some blueberries from Fairwinds Farm. She couldn’t help but sample a few, for quality assurance of course, and was nice enough to share some with me as we continued walking the rows of booths. She told me how these blueberries were the perfect mix of both sweet and tart, and how previously she had bought blueberries that were early in the season and were a bit smaller and sourer. I got to talk to Lydia, a vendor at the Fairwinds Farm booth, about what the POP Club has been like from the receiving-end. “The kids are all so excited,” she told me, “They shop on their own, ask questions, count the money, and pay all by themselves. It’s really incredible.” I was able to talk to Sorrel and Silvo’s parents as well who expressed their love for the program. Sorrel is an independent kid, and her dad loves that she has the opportunity to shop on her own. Sorrel says it makes her feel like a “grown-up.”  

Sorrel and Silvo with their blueberry purchase

The POP Club has also been successful in introducing kids to unusual kinds of foods. For example, Stella, a 10-year-old member, buys mushrooms with her POP Bucks. In talking with the vendor at Fruit of the Forest Mushroom Farm, she has discovered that Chestnut mushrooms are her favorite.  Ethan, the vendor with Fruit of the Forest, shared that “the kids always ask questions about the mushrooms. One little girl” – presumably, Stella – “always comes up and asks how much she can get with $4.”  

These kinds of connections with local farmers and vendors at our Farmers’ Market help kids to strengthen ties to local agriculture, which in turn fosters excitement about buying local and organic produce. There are countless benefits to eating healthy foods, specifically fruits and veggies from local farms, and BTLT wants to encourage kids and families to get involved! POP Club has exceeded expectations and engagement levels during its pilot phase, and BTLT is seeking greater grant funding to continue this meaningful program. In the future, Julia hopes to expand the program to include dairy and meat products, to incentivize a well-balanced diet while continuing to support our vendors. POP Club has been a monumental step in engaging local kids in healthy eating practices and good financial skills while also letting them explore their own curiosities regarding food and local agriculture.

Fruit of the Forest Mushrooms vendor Ethan with POP Club shoppers