Written by: Hayley Baumgartner, FoodCorps Service Member with Center for Healthy Communities
“Hey!, Hey!!, HEEEYYYY!!! What do you guys have today??” a pair of fourth grade girls call to me through the chain link fence as I am setting up a farm stand booth in the hot valley sun. “We have strawberries today,” I call back and they squeal “YESSSS!” in excitement as they jump up and down. “We brought money today” they tell me enthusiastically. Every other Thursday I hop in the car with Emily, a former FoodCorps service member, and we make an hour long trek from Chico, CA to Burchfield Primary School in Colusa, CA. We come armed with a wagon full of fresh, seasonal, local produce to sell and generous amounts of free produce tastings to give away.
For the past year and a half, Burchfield Primary has been the site of a school farmers’ market pilot project that is funded through a Farmers’ Market Promotional Program (FMPP) grant. This grant has allowed the Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) to provide bi-monthly farm stands in the town of Colusa. Colusa is an agricultural community, yet it has limited access to fresh produce, as it mostly has corner markets. The intention of bringing a farm stand pilot project to this small community is to increase access and consumption of fresh, local produce for students and their families. And gradually, it is starting to work.
The bell rings to signal the end of school and students rush out like a wave. We have everything priced and set up in wooden produce crates as students rush towards us. We watch eager students pulling change and crumpled dollar bills out of their backpacks to buy bunches of carrots, juicy stone fruit, and bags of sweet strawberries. We can’t pass out our strawberry samples fast enough, as there are little hands everywhere! The Farm Stand is quite a sight to see: A fourth grade boy doles out crunchy orange carrots he just bought with his own money to his friends, and a mom patiently encourages her son to try every produce sample that we bring. We work the after school rush and see our farm stand bringing out all types of community members, from teachers, principals, and groundskeepers to parents, grandparents, and young siblings.
After the crowds die down, we catch our breath and look over what we have left. It has been a successful day when there is a lonely bag of sugar snap peas and two apricots leftover. From our regular grandma who comes squealing back into the parking lot because she just has to buy more of the sweet crisp snap peas, to the confident red head boy who name drops his superintendent father in hopes of getting some free berries, I think something about our farm stand is starting to catch on.
Below you can find some lessons we have learned through trial and error.
- School buy in– this is invaluable! If students are invested, parents are more likely to be invested. Foster student involvement either by creating a farm stand club or by partnering with teachers who are interested in being a classroom stakeholder. Organize groups of students to be in charge of different parts of the farm stand i.e. finance team, advertising crew, farm stand hospitality and tastings squad.
- Know what sells– really pay attention to which produce items the community wants to buy.
- Pricing– keep pricing simple and affordable by breaking things into smaller portions. $2 has been our max cost, with most items being between $ .50-1.00.
- Align with another program such as Harvest of the Month or cafeteria features. We aligned with our Harvest of the Month program and it has been immensely helpful in promoting the farm stand.
- Promote– through signage, school marquee/bulletin/websites, and social media.
- Consider sourcing produce through a CSA or making deals with farmers to purchase end of market produce to sell at your farm stand.
- Cooking demos and Free Tastings are a must! It is what draws people in.
- Farm Stands are a great platform to provide information about CalFresh.
About the Author: Hayley Baumgartner is a FoodCorps Service Member with Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) in Chico, CA. After many years of teaching, Hayley comes to CHC with experience in curriculum development and classroom management. In her current year of service, Hayley supports the Harvest of the Month program by preparing and distributing up to 4,000 tastings a month across the North Valley Region.
The Center for Healthy Communities (CHC) is a leader in nutrition education. food security and physical activity programs and policies addressing the needs of diverse populations locally, regionally, and internally. CHC provides the infrastructure and coordination of shared resources for interdisciplinary student-faculty-staff research and opportunities for civic engagement and service learning in our communities. To learn more about CHC, please visit their website.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of AmeriCorps leaders who connect kids to real food and help them grow up healthy. To find out more, please visit their website.