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The power of healthy eating

Mt. Hood Farmers Market leaders hope to boost popularity with families

Who knew you could get a curly cucumber and flavored honey sticks with two wooden coins? Through the Mt. Hood Farmers Market’s Power of Produce program, local children can do their own grocery shopping.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Makenna Welch, 7, shows off the curly cucumber and flavorful honey sticks she purchased at the Mt. Hood Farmers Market with her Power of Produce coins.

On Saturday morning, Aug. 8, 7-year-old Makenna Welch was browsing the Mt. Hood Farmers Market for choice produce. After looking around, she decided on a cucumber that curled like a smile and four flavors of honey sticks.

Makenna is a pro. She’s been to the Mt. Hood Farmer’s market “millions” of times.

“Okay, not millions,” she clarified with a laugh.

The Mt. Hood Farmers Market, which continues on Saturdays through October, has something for every member of the family, no matter their age.

Maia Lane, 13, and Reagan Schleich, 12, have interned with AntFarm since summer began. After their internship they decided to stay on as volunteers for the Power of Produce program at the market.

Every Saturday, Maia and Reagan greet kids like Makenna, walk them through a healthy eating activity — last week was a garden puzzle — and then give them their coins to spend at the market. The coins can be used at any of the produce booths.

“It’s just fun in general helping kids learn,” Maia said. “So they learn at a young age that eating healthy is fun and exercising is fun.”

Reagan added, “It’s good to see kids are more involved."

Shannon Wagner, a former AntFarm occupational therapy student intern who helped set up the program’s format, praised the youthful infusion into the program. POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Aaron Snow, Jayson Quillen, Reagan Schleich, Kyle Beckstead and Maia Lane wait for customers at the AntFarm Power of Produce table.

“We got the idea from the Oregon City Farmers Market who pioneered the idea after receiving a grant,” she said. “We now have youth in charge of the booth, with assistance from AntFarm Staff, who have decided to stay on after their internship because they enjoyed working with the kids so much.”

Children welcome

Nunpa, executive director of AntFarm, said the program has been fairly successful, with 42 kids participating the first day, but participation has steadily decreased.

Maia and Reagan said they usually get five children visiting the Power of Produce booth each Saturday, but would like to see more.

Every week they do a new activity. The first weekend of August, they led youths in a “guess the vegetable” activity and the week before they had them engage in an exercise activity.

“It’s a way to also support these children in learning where a strawberry comes from,” Nunpa said. “We really want to create an event that’s family-friendly and fun.”POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Makenna Welch shops the Mt. Hood Farmers Market on Saturday, Aug. 8.

The market has tried to make the event family-friendly and welcoming to all by allowing customers to pay with their Oregon Trail Card through the SNAP program or with vouchers through the federal Women, Infants and Children (WIC), program.

“A lot of markets don’t have that,” Nunpa noted. “Really, when you look at the percentage of folks in our region that are low-income, (there’s a need). They can get fresh produce, and they can get the best of the best."

Aiding farmers

A large reason AntFarm took over the farmers market this year was to help support the area's small farms. Of Clackamas County's 3,745 farms, 37.6 percent are fewer than 10 acres.

To be successful, those farmers need to be selling their products at farm stands or farmers markets weekly, Nunpa said. In order to keep food local instead of having produce travel through Sandy to Portland, the Saturday market needed to change.

“We needed to increase the frequency,” he added. “Product doesn’t have to go to Portland.”

Recently, AntFarm put in for a USDA grant that would go toward networking farmers markets in Sandy, Estacada and Warm Springs. If successful, the connection would allow for products to travel over the mountain and be accessible to everyone.

The grant will be announced in September.POST PHOTO: KYLIE WRAY - Organizers hope to boost the popularity of the Mt. Hood Farmers Market with families toward the end of its season.

Although Nunpa said AntFarm may eventually pass the Mt. Hood Farmers Market off to another local food organization, it will always have a place at the AntFarm Outdoor Building.

A kiosk is in the works to be constructed at AntFarm Outdoors that will include an area map to point out all the local farms and mountain biking trails in and around Sandy.

The list of farms included on the map can be accessed through the Bull Run Foodshed Alliance’s Farm Directory, at bullrunfoodshedalliance.org

“We want to create this market as a longstanding institution,” Nunpa said.

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