Although farmers’ markets are nothing new to those who grew up in India, they still hold their fascination for me. Having lived in the US for the last 16 years and across 5 states, three of which saw some really bitter winters, farmers’ markets were a novel occurrence. In fact, my very first one was in Chicago nearly 12 years after I moved to the U.S.
Now that we live in California, the home of eternal sunshine and farmers’ markets that run rain or shine, we make it a point to visit one of our two local markets almost every weekend. I especially like doing this for our kids because there is much to be learned from this experience.
Here are 6 reasons why kids should go to farmers’ markets. More specifically, here are 6 reasons why I take my kids to farmers’ markets
1. It’s family time.
Since we moved to California a little over a year ago, we have almost always visited farmers’ markets together. First, as a family of three with a pregnant me and later with Baby E too.
I want my kids to grow up having memories of going to farmers’ markets with the family and just hanging out. Once the kids are older, I can see this turning into a family weekend ritual where a visit to the market is followed by a visit to a park or playground or even ice-cream. Two weekends ago, we even went to a fire station after our market haul. Before they get to the stage where they don’t want to hang out with their parents anymore, they’ll have this and memories that will last a lifetime.
2. It teaches kids about money.
A few months ago, I started handing TJ the money to be paid to the sellers and he totally got into it. I let him keep the pennies and dimes that we get in change and it is the cutest thing to see him stuff them in his precious little pockets. Once we come home, he puts them in his “Money Train” or a piggy-bank that looks like a train; a train-bank, I guess.
It is never too early to teach kids about money or at least allow them a feel for it, its role in transactions, how we need to pay for things we want to use/cook with, to get a feel for what money looks like and even what it smells like. As he gets older, this will also be a clever, fun, and creative way to teach him Math.
3. It teaches kids the significance of supporting local farmers, local produce, local markets, and local businesses.
California grows a majority of the US’s nuts, fruits, and vegetables.We have the good fortune of having farmers driving in from the length and breadth of our little neighborhood every weekend to sell their produce. We see massive farmlands as we drive a few miles away from the city itself in most directions. What my kids get to see at our weekly farmers’ market visits is the fruits of labor, literally. They get to appreciate the need to continue to support our local farmers, produce, markets, and businesses.
No doubt, we can always step into a grocery store and buy whatever we need, whenever, whether in season or not. I prefer, however, to buy in season and local. How wonderful to know that the strawberries we eat aren’t coming from, say, South America, but a farm 30 miles from where we live. How fortunate to be able to reduce the carbon footprint on our produce! Perhaps, we can even go strawberry picking one day. I just love the idea of being so close to what we eat. The farm-to-table concept gives me goose bumps. That’s how our ancestors used to live. This is how we can choose to live too whenever we can and in our own small way.
4. It is about community.
Another reason I am more motivated to do #3 above is because all of the farmers at my local markets are really, really nice. They are always friendly, polite, willing to let you taste and test out whatever it is, before you are ready to buy. They will even give you ideas on recipes and tips on how to use the vegetables they sell. Given our Asian dominated area, we do get a lot of vegetables specific to these cultures, particularly, Chinese, but the sellers and sometimes the buyers too, are always willing to share ideas on what to make with the veggies. I am always excited to try new leafy greens and make something I have never made before.
The chit-chatting with farmers, asking them about their farms, their produce, learning about growing certain things, just how far they drive each week to all the markets, have them readily give TJ all kinds of samples, engage him during his money-produce exchange and patiently wait while he slowly gives them the money and takes the bag of produce…all of this, to me, helps develop a sense of community and familiarity. Another reason I like my specific farmers’ markets is because they round down. For example, if something weighs in to cost $0.83 cents, they’ll only charge me $0.75 cents.
[On a side note – We attended one of the country’s largest farmers’ market in Mountain View (Yep, Google is headquartered there) a couple of times and ALL the sellers there round up. We don’t all work for Google, you know! While I am all for supporting farmers, doing so within my humble means wins over every single time.]
5. It teaches my kid how to pick certain vegetables.
I never really went grocery shopping when I lived in India. My mother did most of that work. If I had to do it, I would only reluctantly go because one thing you have to do with sellers in India, is bargain, and I just don’t want to deal with that drama or maybe because I was lazy. There were, however, a few times when I accompanied my mom during her shopping trips and actually learned a thing or two. One of those lessons was how to pick tomatoes. You pick them up and feel them and if they feel hard to the touch, then those are the ones you buy. I have been able to teach this to TJ.
He helps me whenever I pick my tomatoes and knows which ones to pick (see pic above).
I also know how to pick the right kinds of Okra (or Ladies Fingers – why they’re called that in India, I don’t know. I have my guesses.) and have taught my boy that as well. Accordingly, as I learn more myself, I’ll be passing these on to my kids and they won’t have to wait decades before they put these lessons into practice.
6. It’s just fun.
TJ loves hanging out around the many stalls, soaking in the sun, running around, and enjoying his free samples as we shop. In addition to the produce stalls, there are a bunch of fun stalls and sellers even though we don’t patronize these much – a popcorn seller, tamales seller, the honey sticks guy, fresh flowers seller, the jam lady, the hummus guy, and the fish guys too. Depending on what time we get there, we also get to enjoy live music in the heart of the market. It’s a party for all and it has the collective goodness of a community coming together for an enjoyable shopping experience. At the very least, visiting a farmers’ market is much, much, much more fun than visiting a grocery store any day.
Do you have a farmers’ market or something similar where you live?
If you visit with kids, do you have any tips for making the experience fun and memorable?
What else do you think kids learn from visiting farmers’ markets?