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A Successful Strategy



Farmers’ markets aren’t just for grown-ups anymore.
Each month at after-school sites such as the Boys and Girls Club or YMCA, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County hosts a kids-focused farmers’ market, offering healthy fruits and vegetables to youngsters. The award-winning Kids’ Farmers’ Market Program — recently honored as the “Program of the Year” at the 2011 Feeding America Annual Summit — helps ensure that hungry youngsters in the California county receive the healthy produce they often desperately need. 

But market officials and volunteers also provide a heavy dose of information about what to do with all those nutritious goods to the kids, giving them nutrition education that they can carry with them once the farmers’ market is over.

“We’re not going to let anybody go hungry, but how we feed people matters,” explains Serena Fuller, the bank’s health education and evaluation manager. “It’s not just filling the belly. It’s filling the belly appropriately, so we’re not exasperating signals that make people more hungry.”

For many Americans, the obesity epidemic has been a double whammy. As The Inside Track wrote in September, lower-income families are at-risk of being both hungry and obese. Many lack access to affordable, healthy food and thus consume too much fast food or processed goods.

Lower-income families also might skip meals to save money, which forces them to overeat later on.

The Foodbank is working to combat this trend, and are especially looking at how to help at-need children. Fortunately, they’ve got an ally in Santa Barbara county schools, which Fuller says are healthy and nutritious. “We want kids who bring their lunch because the food is actually so great,” Fuller says.

With the schools already dishing out healthy meals, the Foodbank has focused on targeting kids and their families after school. The Kids’ Farmers’ Markets are perhaps the hallmark, offering kids nutrition education about how fruits and vegetables are grown, how they are cooked and used and why they are so nutritious. Kids also prepare and eat a nutritious recipe during the market, and take home produce and recipes to share with their families.

Meanwhile, each week the Foodbank packs hundreds of back packs with nutritious goods such as peanut butter, fresh fruit, bottled water and other easy meals to deliver to children who are homeless or in transitional living situations. The backpacks are given to the kids on Fridays, providing them with enough food to get through the weekend. On Mondays, the backpacks are returned.

Fuller says that the kids she works with understand the importance of healthy eating. But to see real success, it’s important that folks working on hunger and wellness come together. “We’re really changing what a food bank does,” Fuller says of her work.