While the Saturday Sprouts Program at the Winter Farmers Market might be aimed at children, it’s their parents who may truly be the ones appreciating it.
“It was a nice surprise,” said Katie Flanigan, of Shrewsbury, who was at the Vermont Farmers Food Center Saturday with her husband, Mike, and 2-year-old daughter, Eloise. “Having a two-year-old at a farmers market is a little wild. She likes to run, so it’s nice to have a place she can go play.”
Saturday Sprouts is a program put on by the educational arm of the Vermont Farmers Food Center, said Melinda Hardt, education coordinator for the center.
Hardt joined the organization about eight months ago, she said.
“We have a mission of reconnecting the community with farming and food, so that kind of branches out into different things with the market as well as educational programs and a pharmacy program,” she said. “It’s a collaboration of people that really are driven to reconnect the Rutland community with the farming aspect of things and food production.”
The Saturday Sprouts program is a room within the main building at 251 West St. where Hardt has set up several stations with educational activities centered around nature and farming.
“It’s an open flow program,” said Hardt. “It provides a space where kids can have an authentic experience with gardening, natural objects, kinda connect them to a sense of place here and also allow parents to roam the market without the child. We have a book table with the chairs around it, we have coloring tables, we have our natural objects area, which has feathers and wood blocks and pine cones, and we always have a project, like a craft of the day. Today is clay pots.”
Flanigan said her family has been to the Winter Farmers Market several times this year. They didn’t know about the Saturday Sprouts until they walked into it.
“The first time we stayed with her, then we left her for just a little while while we shopped,” said Flanigan. “Last weekend I came on my own, it was huge to be able to shop on my own. She loves to play with the chalk and do hopscotch and try out some new things, like clay.”
Hardt said this week is clay pot making, while future activities will include basket weaving, bee keeping, and seed planting.
Saturday Sprouts is just one aspect of the Vermont Farmers Market’s education efforts.
Hardt said this is the first year the educational branch of the center has been grant funded, having received the Bowes Health Grant in December. She said it’s a diminishing grant, meaning it’s fully funded this year, but won’t be fully paid for the second or third, the goal being the program will develop enough contracts with local schools to sustain itself.
“I do right now have a fourth grade contract with the Rutland City Schools and a second grade. They come for an hour per class. In fourth grade they have seven classes, in second grade they have I think seven as well, and they come throughout the week,” said Hardt. “We base all of our programming for them on science standards so it fits the public schools, but we also do really in-depth planting, science plant experiments, stuff like that. So I coordinate all that with the schools.”
The school program involves a lot of growing-related experiments, showing children what happens when plants don’t get certain resources they need, and what they look like under a high-powered microscope, said Hardt.
Hardt said she plans to create several programs in the coming months, one for homeschool students, one that will teach parent/guardians and their kids how to grow their own food, and to conduct an audit of the gardening options open to local schools.