3 min read
Vegetables for sale at a farmers market

LUVERNE, Ala. — Crenshaw County residents have an extra reason to visit the farmer’s market this summer. The Food SMARTS program — provided through Live Well Alabama and taught by Alabama Cooperative Extension System Regional Agent Kristen Sanders — brings fun nutrition education activities for both children and adults. The Crenshaw County Farmers Market opened June 3 and will be open each Monday in June, July and August from 3 to 6 p.m.

Enhancing the Farmers Market

A Live Well Alabama food demonstration at the Crenshaw County Farmers Market in 2023.The Food SMARTS program covers nutrition education topics including the following:

  • Stretching your produce.
  • How to read a nutrition label.
  • Processed foods versus whole foods.
  • Creating healthy shopping lists.

Sanders said the Food SMARTS curriculum has been invaluable for planning demonstrations. For example, the materials on how to stretch the produce were popular among market shoppers. This taught community members how to reduce food waste by properly storing, freezing and preserving food items.

Many shoppers also visited the Live Well Alabama table to watch Sanders make homemade vegetable stock. She demonstrated how to freeze scraps from certain vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away to use in homemade vegetable stock.

“I know many people, me included, can be guilty of buying fresh produce and then wasting some of it because we may not use it as fast as we intended,” Sanders said. “Adding this series into the market this year helps buyers understand how to stretch fresh produce out longer.”

By incorporating these practical lessons, the Food SMARTS program helps market goers make the most of their fresh produce by reducing waste and promoting sustainable habits.

Hands-On Fun for Children

Adults are not the only ones learning at this farmers market. Children also take part in hands-on activities to teach them about various food topics. For example, children can play a wooden refrigerator activity and learn where to store different food items as part of a teaching topic. Older children received handouts to color, draw or write about where to store different foods — in the fridge, on the counter or in storage containers.

Veggie Bucks Program

One of the highlights of the Crenshaw County Farmers Market is the Veggie Bucks program. Sanders partnered with the Crenshaw County Farmers Federation to secure the funds to make this program possible. Each week, children can stop by the Live Well Alabama table and take part in a hands-on nutrition activity. When they do, they receive a $2 Veggie Bucks voucher. The children can use the Veggie Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables from participating vendors at the market.

Dusty Bagents, a parent and one of the vendors at the market, appreciates the dual benefits of the program.

“Having the Veggie Bucks and nutritional education available during market hours is a great hands-on learning tool,” Bagents said. “My kids love to earn their bucks and spend them on something for themselves. The engaging education is fun for them. My daughter, especially, will be the first to tell me what food is a healthy choice. I also love to see nonfarm raised kids learning about the produce, where it comes from and fun ways to prepare it.”

Sanders said the inspiration and help from Cindy Harper, an Alabama Extension Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Education (SNAP-Ed) educator in St. Clair County, was instrumental in planning the Veggie Bucks program.

“I give her (Harper) all the credit for this fun program,” Sanders said. “I look forward to seeing more and more kids come out to the market each year as this program grows. Seeing the kids come out and get excited about earning a veggie buck just by playing with toys or doing an activity is so fun to watch. They don’t even realize they are learning while we talk and they play.”

Committed Educators

The Food SMARTS program is an interactive, learner-centered curriculum for nutrition educators. These materials are targeted toward low-income audiences throughout the United States, including Alabama Extension SNAP-Ed’s audiences. Developed in 2006 by Leah’s Pantry, a California-based nonprofit, the program is designed to help people feel competent in preparing easy, nutritious meals for their families. Evaluations of the program show significant improvements in the consumption of fruits and vegetables, as well as reductions in sugary beverage intake.

More Information

Live Well Alabama is committed to helping the community live healthier, one fun activity at a time. To learn more about nutrition and physical activity, visit www.LiveWellAlabama.com. There, you can find valuable resources, practical advice and insights to support your wellness journey.

For those looking to connect with others interested in a healthy lifestyle, consider following Live Well Alabama on social media. Their FacebookTwitter and Instagram platforms offer a space to share experiences, find inspiration and join a community focused on well-being.