Discover local foods as you learn and explore with your kids

Experience farm market fare and fun with your kids while you shop.

Farm markets are great places to teach children about nutrition, support local agriculture and teach lessons in math and science. Photo by April Sorrow, UGA CAES, Flickr Creative Commons

Farm markets are great places to teach children about nutrition, support local agriculture and teach lessons in math and science. Photo by April Sorrow, UGA CAES, Flickr Creative Commons

As summer gives way to autumn, farm markets and a harvest of locally grown produce can offer endless opportunities for exploration and some great learning for you and your children. Michigan State University Extension recommends planning a trip to a local farm market or orchard for an inexpensive outing to teach children the importance of good nutrition, supporting local agriculture and lessons in math and science.

Farm markets often cover large areas so you will want to plan accordingly for young shoppers. Check to see if the market you plan to visit has a website that offers information on parking, coupons, activities and a map. A stroller or wagon can provide a ride for small children as well as provide a space to transport your fresh produce purchases as you explore the market. If you have very young children, you may want to choose one area of the market to visit on your first trip as an introduction to farm market shopping. A farm market can be a busy place and the sights and smells may be unfamiliar and overwhelming to very young children.

Pre-school children can walk alongside you at the market, carrying a bag in which to store small, lightweight purchases. Children feel more grown up if they have their own tote and a way to assist with shopping. Let children weigh, count and pay for purchases to teach and reinforce math skills. Talk with your children about produce that is seasonal (“Why don’t we see oranges here?”), where and how things are grown and how farm market produce is fresh from the farm. Encourage kids to ask questions of local growers and help them find answers. Sample the many local products being offered. Touching and tasting is encouraged at most farm markets. Picky eaters are more apt to eat something if they choose it themselves. Talk about shape, color and feel of different items.

Plan ahead for a memorable, safe and fun outing. Have activities that involve all family members. Have each family member try to find a unique fruit or vegetable to take home to try. A farm market scavenger hunt might include a list of foods, sights and sounds, and objects that children could look for on your farm market visit. Explore the many colors and varieties of familiar produce; red, yellow, white and purple potatoes. Have children guess how many apples it takes to make a pound. Count how many different kinds of squash you find.

When arriving home with your purchases, explore the Michigan Fresh website to find fact sheets on how to store, prepare and preserve your farm market finds. Get your children involved in healthy shopping and cooking. Create a salad made with only local produce and farm market purchases, experimenting with tastes and colors. If you are looking for new ways to introduce fruits and vegetables into your family meals, contact your local MSU Extension office to check out the many nutrition and cooking classes they offer.

Explore the world of gardening and healthy foods in children’s books. “Rah, Rah, Radishes!” by April Pulley Sayre explores the world of vibrant vegetables with rhyming chants and beautiful farm market photos. “The Runaway Garden” by Jeffery L. Schatzer is a “delicious story that’s good for you too.” Your local library has a wealth of children’s books that will please even the youngest garden explorer.

Make farm market visits a regular stop on your family outing for a unique learning experience, healthy shopping choices and fun for the whole family. Check out the Michigan Farmer’s Market Association website search feature to find a variety of markets in your location or in your travels.