Don’t veg out, put the veg in!

With the growing consumer demand of buying locally grown foods and the greater interest in health and nutrition, the time is ripe to start a youth farm stand.

For most youth, school is out for the summer. Finding constructive, educational activities for young people during the summer can be challenging for parents and guardians. Adults and families looking for ways to get young people outside and off the couch, computer or cell phone, may want to consider starting a family-run youth farm stand. Developing a youth farm stand has the benefits of incorporating nutrition education with gardening and basic business skills. With the growing consumer demand of buying locally grown foods and the greater interest in health and nutrition, the time is ripe to start a stand.

Starting a youth farm stand requires planning and preparation, and may seem overwhelming at first. However, Michigan State University Extension has many resources available to help connect youth to soil and operate a stand. A curriculum from the C.S. Mott Group for Sustainable Food Systems, now the Center for Regional Food Systems, and Michigan Youth Farm Stand Project are perfect tools for a 4-H club, Boy or Girl Scout troop, local YMCA, school, church or other youth development organization interested in bringing fresh, local and affordable food to their neighborhood and engaging youth in community food systems.

Healthy food is not equally available or accessible to all people. For some, a grocery store or supermarket might be walking distance away. For others, the only place within reach to buy food is the local gas station or party store where food options are very limited. When youth explore their community food system, they discover what food is available, where it’s available and what gaps there might be. Can their youth farm stand fill these gaps?

Studying plants is a staple in science classes. Working in the soil, deciding what and how much to grow, caring for the crops, determining price, marketing the produce, serving customers, handling money and enjoying the fruits and vegetables of their  labor is uncommon in a traditional school curriculum. To better sell their produce, youth need to understand and experience their products. Fruits and vegetables can have a whole new taste when they are picked and eaten the same day. Learning and sampling tasty recipes using what they grow can encourage youth to eat healthier. Teaching the youth to share their product knowledge and enthusiasm with potential customers can also help increase sales.

Michigan State University has many additional research-based curriculums on nutrition, gardening and entrepreneurship that can provide assistance in creating a community or family run youth farm stand. In addition, this summer youth can attend Start Your Own Business: Farm Market Camp where they will experience what it takes to run a farm stand in a week long camp offered July 29-August 2, 2013 at Tollgate Farm Education Center in Novi.

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