Two clear water dispensers sit side by side, one flavored with fresh strawberries and the other with cucumbers. It seems simple, but serving water this way could encourage children to make healthier choices.
“This is one of their favorite parts. They like the water with ‘stuff’ in it,” said Lauren Niemes, executive director of Nutrition Council of Greater Cincinnati, describing kids’ reactions to a station in the Farm to Family program. According to parents, some are even choosing fruit flavored water at home.
In its second year, Farm to Family is a collaboration between Hamilton County Educational Service Center, Head Start, Nutrition Council of Greater Cincinnati and Hamilton County Farm Bureau. The program is working to help Head Start families in the county improve access to fresh fruits and vegetables while increasing food literacy, menu planning skills and knowledge about the benefits of eating local foods.
Increasing fruit and vegetable consumption for these families can be challenging because many don’t have access to a grocery store or are unfamiliar with fresh produce and reluctant to spend money on something their children may not eat, Niemes said.
“When we did focus groups with parents, one of the biggest challenges they identified was, ‘How do I get my kids to eat vegetables,’” she said. “By coming here and interacting with it, they will eat it. If they actually help make the food, they will be more likely to try it.”
Each Thursday in June, program participants arrived at the county Educational Service Center where they were greeted by a room full of interactive stations about food and cooking.
One of the largest stations was a grocery line of sorts, where the 50 participating families could pick up produce delivered each week by farmer Mike Collins of Martin Hill Farms in nearby Aberdeen. Potatoes, kale, asparagus, green onions and strawberries were just some of the items available at one of the sessions.
“It is a great partnership with Mike because it helps support his farm and meet our needs of wanting to introduce kids to vegetables and increase access to fresh local produce for these families,” Niemes said.
Families watch cooking demonstrations and receive recipes to help them prepare their produce at home in a way that tastes good and is still healthy.
Beverly Morris, a participant in Farm to Family with her grandson Corwin, raved about the experience.
“I just absolutely love it,” Morris said. “Corwin sees us eating these different foods and will try it. It is stretching our family’s food horizons.”
A part of the program Morris particularly enjoyed was an interactive station coordinated by Hamilton County Farm Bureau where participants picked out tomato and pepper plants and learned from farmers how to care for them.
“We get questions like ‘OK I picked this pepper off of the pepper plant. Do I need to get another plant to get more peppers?’ They just didn’t know,” said Ken Morris, a Hamilton County Farm Bureau board member.
Some participants even brought back pictures of their plant, said Hamilton County Farm Bureau President Dennis Heyob.
“It gives you a dialogue with people who don’t have a direct connection to agriculture,” he said. “It’s knocking barriers down.”