From Farmers Markets to Food Policy

There is no doubt that farmers markets can help cultivate community in areas that they are planted. We see it at the weekly markets all the time- meaningful conversations and community relationships formed over pesto recipes and fresh pressed juices. Beyond these conversations, we are seeing how farmers markets also have the ability to extend from the local arena into the realm of policy. This past summer, The Georgia Farmers Market Association, through its partnership with Sustainable Norcross was able to bear witness and offer support to a community challenge that is now gaining traction with the school board. A group of young women from Summerour Middle School expressed their displeasure with the food options in their cafeteria to Karla Blaginin, a Norcross community member and GFMA statistician. When asked why, the students expressed that the food was unappealing, both visually and in terms of taste. The girls observed that a number of the students in their school would throw their food away and go hungry for the same reasons. Many of them stated that the fruit in particular was often preserved in syrups, or simply looked “like plastic”. The students wanted fruit that was flavorful and looked like foods they were used to eating at home. Many of them enjoyed traditional Mexican fruit cups, an arrangement of fresh, sliced fruit, sprinkled in crushed chili powder. With the student population at Summerour being close to 80% Latino, this proposition seemed fitting. Incorporating cultural traditions into has proven to be an effective way to introduce healthy meal options and the likelihood that the food will be consumed.

Mrs. Blaginin saw this problem as an opportunity for more dialogue. She expressed concern for the  food waste that was occurring in the cafeteria, but found the fact that the children were not eating at lunch to be a bigger problem. At a meeting with the school board, Karla expressed that, "its not about good calories or bad calories if the kids are not consuming any calories at lunch. Not eating at all has a negative affect on their health and performance in school." By tackling the issue of making food options more appealing to students, Karla proposed the opportunity to address both food waste and hunger.

She believed that the opportunity to address this problem could expand into an avenue for greater dialogue, and a great teaching moment. With their parents' approval (and involvement) Karla got to work with the young ladies.  They asked their peers for feedback on the food and used the feedback to create a presentation about their concerns about the food options and waste in their cafeteria. The girls and their parents set up a booth at the Norcross Community Market to make the community aware of the food waste phenomenon as well as the reasons for it. They presented a petition to change the fruit selection to include the Mexican fruit cups, a petition that amassed over 200 signatures! In January, the girls presented to a number of community members and school officials, including principals, counselors and educators. They were invited to present to the Gwinnett County School and Nutrition Board, and received a warm, engaging reception. The county has agreed to begin making the suggested plans toward diversifying the cafeteria meal suggestions this February!

We are so thrilled to see how a neat project that began in a local market has evolved into producing policy changes that is impacting nutritional outcomes for children in the community. We are excited about where this will lead and hope that the work that Karla and these young women have produced will inspire farmers markets to take the lead on nutritional policy across Georgia.