Native Youth Teach Healthy Diets (Learning to Love Vegetables!)
The purpose of our SARE grant was to create a new marketing/outreach plan for our weekly youth-run Farmers Market in the Twin Cities. Our goal was to increase our outreach efforts, support youth in teaching the urban Native community about the importance of fresh, organic produce as part of a healthy diet, and encourage participation and support for our Farmers Markets.
On July 2, we launched our second Farmers Market on Payne Avenue in St. Paul, a location that was convenient for program participants at the nearby American Indian Family Center. We also relocated our original Minneapolis market to Little Earth of United Tribes, the largest Indian housing development in the country. Both locations were selected for their easy accessibility for Native families, eliminating the barrier of transportation in using our markets.
Our Youth Leaders worked with Dream of Wild Health staff—Donna LaChapelle, Program Director, and Ernie Whiteman, Cultural Program Leader—to develop a presentation at two Healthy Feasts in the American Indian community. The kids were nervous, excited, and committed to the project. They worked with Ernie, who is also a well-known artist, to create posters about the importance of good nutrition in maintaining health, and develop artwork for the cookbook we were creating. The group had already worked with David Rodriguez, a graduate student in Nutrition, to learn about nutrition from an indigenous perspective and set personal health goals. They learned about the medicine wheel concept of health, the traditional belief that to live a good life one must maintain balance with the mind, body, spirit and emotions. Each youth either wrote a piece about their own lives or chose a reading from a text related to healthy diets. They practiced, practiced, practiced with Ernie and Donna, struggling to overcome their fear of public speaking.
Our first Healthy Feast took place on June 18 at the American Indian Family Center (AIFC) in St. Paul, just two weeks before launching our Farmers Market three blocks away. We had arranged to work with the Mothers’ Circle at AIFC, sharing the costs of $10 vouchers that women could bring to the market in exchange for fresh produce. We sent flyers prior to the Feast inviting staff and clients to a free lunch featuring a Circle of Life presentation by the Youth Leaders.
On the big day, we gathered in a circle around a special star blanket that was made specifically for this presentation. Posters were hung on the wall, with Farmers Market flyers stacked beneath. After a prayer from Ernie, the kids took turns speaking their parts just as they had rehearsed. Some of their voices shook, one or two were hard to hear, but afterwards they were all elated! People came up to shake their hands and thank them for their words. We shared a beautiful meal of wild rice soup, strawberry walnut salad made with fresh greens, corn bread, and wojapi (traditional stewed blueberries). Each person received a complimentary copy of our newly printed recipe book plus a voucher to use at the Farmers Market. Twenty-eight people attended this event, plus six Youth Leaders and four staff.
On July 23, we hosted the second Healthy Feast at Little Earth of United Tribes. Slightly less nervous the second time through, our Youth Leaders made their presentation to the community. We shared a delicious meal made with vegetables from our farm, and again handed out flyers publicizing the Market, free cookbooks, and vouchers to be used to purchase vegetables. Thirty-two people attended, plus six youth leaders and three staff.
To help publicize our Markets, we placed ads in the July and August issues of the Circle newspaper. Each week we publicized the markets with a list of vegetables available on the MN Indian List Serve, faxed flyers to Indian organizations in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and sent flyers home with the kids in our summer programs. We also sent e-mail updates and event announcements on Facebook.
We learned a great deal from this project. Both locations—at Little Earth housing development, and on Payne Avenue, three blocks from AIFC—proved to be challenging in terms of attracting steady participation at the markets. Prior to this project, we were assuming that lack of participation in the markets was due to three factors: lack of transportation, lack of income, and lack of knowledge about how to cook with fresh vegetables. What we learned was that all three challenges had to be met in order to improve participation.
First of all, because our markets are not part of established Farmers Markets with other vendors, our stand-alone markets suffered from an over-all lack of visibility, much like a farmer who sells from the back of a pick-up truck. We kept a simple count of two questions: daily attendance and asking how each person found out about the market. Here’s the estimated total attendance:
Little Earth – 115 individuals, avg. $5 cash purchase, total $576
10 individuals, $5 vouchers, $50 donation
AIFC - 117 individuals, avg. $5 cash purchase, total $586
30 individuals, $10 vouchers (split), $150 donate, $150 cash
TOTAL: $1,162 cash, $150 AIFC vouchers, $150 donated for vouchers
Youth were in charge of record keeping and sales, so that tracking where and how people found out about the market was not consistent during busy times. In the future it would work better to have a third youth whose responsibility was primarily recordkeeping. Overall, however, there was an overwhelming consensus that customers did not rely on the Circle newspaper to find out about the market. Most heard about it from someone they knew, or read about it on the Indian List Serve. Several individuals indicated that it was helpful to get the faxes each week with the list of vegetables available.
Each month when the groups of women came with staff to purchase vegetables using vouchers, the kids were elated by the increase in business. The women in the programs left with large bags of fresh vegetables, some of which were used to cook lunch back at the organization, working with staff and/or Nutrition Education Assistants from the Extension program at the University of Minnesota. Staff at AIFC reported that this program worked very well with their mothers, most of whom had never been to a Farmers Market before. The cookbooks were a huge hit, with people appreciating the recipes that helped them learn how to cook with their fresh produce. We sold or donated the entire 500 printing by the end of the season.
We also worked occasionally with people from the Elders Lodge that is located in St. Paul. The elders lacked transportation and income, so their participation was dependent on getting a ride and a voucher. When those needs were provided, they were enthusiastic about buying as much produce as possible. The Healthy Feast at Little Earth was held concurrent with the weekly Farmers’ Market, and several people left as soon as they received their vouchers to go buy vegetables at our market.
Having youth run the markets continues to be a powerful motivation for them to learn about vegetables, nutrition, organic farming, and our program. Before opening each market, we talked about the vegetables we were selling, easy ways to prepare them, and their benefits in a healthy diet. The youth took great pleasure in answering questions correctly, demonstrating their new expertise. Afterwards, they often asked to take home vegetables to their families, especially carrots. Kids love carrots!
WORK PLAN FOR 2010
While the SARE grant was for a single year, we are using the results of this project in planning for next year’s Farmers Markets. We already have a commitment in place to continue working with AIFC, potentially expanding our collaboration to include their work readiness program participants. We have a meeting set up to review the market experience at Little Earth, and to brainstorm plans for next year. We saw a slow but steady increase in sales at both locations through the summer, and we believe that we can build on this trend. We plan to continue to improve the visibility of the markets with banners and permanent signs. We’re also working with the Youth Leaders to give them a stronger role in the off-season planning for 2010.
We continue to share information from this project with our partner organizations as well as with other groups who are interested in or are working with food accessibility issues in various communities. We’ll include a brief article in our upcoming Fall Harvest newsletter that is distributed to 1,200 people on our mail list. We plan to attend several conferences on food issues this fall, with an anecdotal summary included in our presentations.