Many of our market patrons know about the Sprouts program. However, with so many of the communities of South West Edmonton growing so quickly, we figured there could be a lot of you not familiar with this program. Here is a look at our flagship family program.
What is Sprouts?
Sprouts is a children’s nutrition program run by volunteers of the Southwest Edmonton Farmers’ Market (SWEFM). What you might not know is that SWEFM, itself, is a community project run under the umbrella of TRAC, the Terwillegar Riverbend Advisory Council. Sprouts began in 2013 and has been run entirely by volunteers and funded 100% through sponsorship donations. In its short 4 years, it has gained tremendous momentum, popularity and community buy-in. It began as a program open to 100 children, and grew in its first year to serve 400 children as the community began to see its value and made financial contributions to ensure its success. Sprouts is now open and free to all children between the ages of 4 and 12, thanks to the generous financial donations of community minded businesses, some of its area community leagues, SWAC (South West Area Council) lottery funds, and even some of its participants!
A Community-Led Initiative:
Sprouts is an excellent example of a community-led initiative that started with the spark of an idea and the vision of one volunteer in Terwillegar. A former teacher, she shared her idea with others, roping in neighbors and friends, fellow farmers’ market steering committee members and community volunteers. Through a wonderful collaborative effort, they developed the program with creativity, ingenuity, hard work and vision.
How Does Sprouts Work? A children’s nutrition program, Sprouts is designed to empower kids to make their own healthy eating decisions, to educate them about where their food comes from, and to encourage them to lead a healthy lifestyle. It has a few key elements:
1) Each week that children came to market, they check in at the Sprouts tent and pick up a wooden token that is worth $2. There are strict rules about the token use as it can only be used on fruit, vegetables or food plants (if children want to grow their own food).
2) It is the children who decide what they will purchase with their token, and we encourage them to try new fruits and veggies, and to experiment with their purchases and buy weird and wonderful veggies like candy cane beets, purple cauliflower or alien-space ship looking kohlrabi as a way of exploring the diverse world of the farmers’ market.
3) Some of the farmers that participate in the program go out of their way to create special bags, baskets and cups that contain healthy fruits & veggies that are worth more than the $2 value, and in this way volunteer their own time, creativity and financial contribution to the program.
4) The children enter into a dialogue with our volunteers about their healthy eating and the nutritional decisions they are making in their lives. They enter into dialogues with the farmers about where their food comes from and how it is grown.
5) Next, Sprouts families receive child-friendly recipes, designed to teach basic cooking skills and get children more involved in meal prep and planning at home. Each recipe is very child-friendly and fun and designed by U of A nutrition student volunteers and the Sprouts Recipe Coordinator (Sheri Hendsbee).
a. Each week has a different recipe, featuring fruits and veggies that are in season and available at the market.
b. Each recipe has a nutrition tip, carefully crafted to make accessing nutrition science easy and fun.
c. The entire recipe is kid friendly, designed in bright colours with simple instructions meant to encourage families to cook together, to eat together, and to connect over home cooked meals.
d. There is a “Sprouting Chef’s Tip” for children who are new to cooking in the kitchen that explains or simplifies a technique in the recipe.
e. There is a “Creative Cooks” tip that encourages those children who are more experienced in the kitchen to step up the complexity of a recipe or experiment with substitutions.
6) Opening Day, the first 500 children receive a bright orange Sprouts bag that they return to market with each week. The kids love their pint-sized bags!