Salmon Creek Farmers' Market makes kids into Produce Pals

Program enables kids to buy fruit and vegetables

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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photoA new program at the Salmon Creek Farmers' Market gives Clark County kids tokens worth $2 to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from vendors. The program is open to kids of all ages.

(/The Columbian)

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What: Produce Pals program gives Clark County kids of all ages $2 to buy produce.

When: 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays through Sept. 26.

Where: Salmon Creek Farmers’ Market, 1309 N.E. 134th St., behind Wayside Market.

Four-year-old Ava Bond didn't waste much time deciding how to spend her money at the Salmon Creek Farmers' Market.

As she walked up to a table full of fruits and veggies, her eyes locked on the plump yellow and red cherries. She pointed at the mound of cherries and smiled at her mom, Alexis Bond.

After dropping a couple child-sized handfuls of cherries into a plastic bag, Ava picked out a ripe red tomato and three ears of corn.

At the register, Ava handed over two wooden tokens to pay the $4 grocery bill. Thursday's visit was the second time Ava, Alexis and 1-year-old Sawyer had visited the Salmon Creek market to take advantage of a new program just for kids, called Produce Pals.

The weekly program gives each child a token worth $2. They can use the tokens to purchase fruits and vegetables from any vendor at the market. At the end of the day, the market reimburses the vendors.

The free program is open to all children, toddlers to teens, regardless of income level. Each child gets a membership card, which gets stamped each week they collect a token. The kids also get their own grocery bag decorated with stickers.

Market manager Ann Foster is still trying to secure a financial sponsor for the program. In the meantime, she's funding the program with vendor fees. She plans to operate the program all season.

"I think there's so much value in it," Foster said.

Alexis agreed.

"I just thought it was such a wonderful thing to get them excited about fruits and vegetables and eating healthy," she said.

Alexis learned about the program from her sister, Clare Willson. The two regularly visit the Vancouver Farmers Market on the weekends. But when they heard about Produce Pals a couple weeks ago, they started making the midweek trip from their downtown Vancouver homes to the Salmon Creek market.

"I really appreciate the program and the opportunity to introduce such a wide variety of fresh, local fruits and vegetables to my kids," Alexis said.

Maria Ayala, who operates the Ayala Family Farm booth at the market, said her family's fruit and vegetables are a big hit with kids. Children often tell Ayala that they're picking out food for dinner.

"It seems like it's really exciting for the kids," she said.

The farm is located in Outlook, in the Yakima Valley, but the family visits markets across the state. This was the first time Ayala had seen a program for kids.

Avery, 9, and Adisyn, 6, Trujillo were among the junior customers at Ayala's booth Thursday. The Vancouver girls were participating in the program for the first time, despite being regular visitors to the market.

Avery spent her $2 on dark red cherries and a nectarine. Adisyn picked out a couple nectarines, a plum and a pear. Both said they just chose their favorites.

Their mom, Kimberly Trujillo, said the program provides a good opportunity for kids to pick out foods they like and, just maybe, try new things.

"It would be nice if they'd pick out vegetables," she said. "But I have a feeling it's gonna be a lot of fruit."

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health; http://facebook.com/reporterharshman; marissa.harshman@columbian.com