POP goes the Produce ( and the power thereof )!

June 4, 2018


Would a child ever choose a carrot over a cookie? In our growing world of boxed and fast food meals, are they even able to identify every-day fruits and vegetables older generations could at their age?

A  2009 study by Lorson, Melgar-Quinonez, and Taylor found that 74.1% of children in the US between the ages of 6 and 11 do not meet the recommended daily intake of fruit.  Likewise, among the same group of children, 83.8% did not meet the daily recommended intake of vegetables.  In 2010, Jamie Oliver was shocked by what he heard from a group of first graders who failed to identify common vegetables such as potatoes, tomatoes, broccoli and radishes.

Jamie wasn't the only one shocked. 

People and agencies across the nation received a real eye-opener when the state of nutritional education was revealed -- not only in our schools, but homes as well.  Since that broadcast, many agencies have developed programs to educate our youth on healthy eating choices by including identifiable fruits and vegetables they enjoy.  One program is The Power of Produce (POP) Club, a nationally recognized program held each Saturday through August 9, 9:00 AM  - 11:30 AM, at the City of Gastonia's Dougie Henry Farmer's Market The Power of Produce (POP) Club is a  Farmer's Market Coalition, in partnership with Gaston County Department of Health & Human Services
The POP Club engages children between the ages of 5-12, though they would never turn away a 2, or ( as evidenced in the accompanying gallery ) a 72 year-old!


Attendees are encouraged to sample a fruit or vegetable they've never tried ( this morning was fresh strawberries and chocolate hummus ), as well as play bingo throughout the market, identifying various fruits and vegetables. Completing their bingo card earned two vouchers worth $1.00 each,  used to shop and purchase their own items throughout the market ( typically an attempt at homemade cookies from Ladybug Farms Bakery ).  Exposure to new fruits and vegetables combined with educational activities makes POP Club a fun and healthy learning experience!

The question on many people's minds would be, 'Are these programs working?' In more ways than one, it appears.
A 2017 PoP Club study by the University of Minnesota Extension reports ( from web-based surveys ), "parents of children participating in PoP clubs say their children are eating, or at least trying, more fruits and vegetables. Overall, the PoP Club is increasing family attendance and spending at Minnesota farmers markets. Nearly $10,000 was reimbursed to vendors during 2017. As a result, our group will expand our reach in 2018 to fund 30 farmers markets in Minnesota. "The Oregon City Farmer's Market reported "2006 kids joined the Power Of Produce Club at our Market, resulting in over 6,200 kid shopping trips." Another survey indicated that "83% of the children who participated in the activities tried and liked a new food at the Charlottesville City Market, thanks to the POP Club."


But what about local impact of Gaston County's POP Club, now in its third year? According to Brittain Kenney, Public Information Officer, Gaston County DHHS, " Organizers coordinated 13 POP sessions for children ages 5-12 years at the Gastonia Farmer’s Market from June to August in 2017." The three closest elementary schools to the market were targeted via postcards for students to carry home. "Roughly 200 participants attended at least one session, an increase of 200% over 2016", says La Verne D. Partlow, Health Education Coordinator, GCDHHS, who adds, " We're thrilled to be offering another summer of POP Club here in Gaston County. This program does a great job introducing children to the local food system in fun and engaging ways, and our participants love getting their own POP Club coins to spend at the market."


Which brings up another interesting point about POP Club: Money Management.

According to Forbes, one of The 5 Most Important Money Lessons To Teach Your Kids, "The sooner parents start taking advantage of everyday teachable money moments (for example, give a six-year-old $2 and let her choose which fruit to buy), the better off our kids will be.  Parents are the number one influence on their children’s financial behaviors, so it’s up to us to raise a generation of mindful consumers, investors, savers, and givers,” says Beth Kobliner, author of the New York Times bestseller Get a Financial Life, and a member of the President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability who spearheaded the creation of Money as You Grow, which offers age-appropriate money lessons for children.  Also, a report by researchers at the University of Cambridge commissioned by the United Kingdom’s Money Advice Service revealed that kids’ money habits are formed by age 7.


What would assist Gaston County's POP Club attain the level of success  her national counterparts enjoy? Simply put, funding for marketing expansion.  Postcards and distribution to those locally targeted elementary schools, materials ( staff, bingo cards, sampling food, voucher reimbursement to the Farmer's Market, etc. ), and coordinated social networking efforts by local supporters are solely organized and funded by Gaston County DHHSGiven the necessity of good health and financial skills in today's market, it’s surprising that more parents aren't taking advantage of this opportunity to teach their children about both. Of course, broader knowledge of its existence would help, ergo marketing.


What do parents think, and how far are they willing to drive?

Ask Karen Turner, who lives in Bessemer City. She was privy to the information through her and her husband, David Turner's successful website and facebook page, Gaston Eats. Karen took their 8 year-old daughter, SJ. "I thought it was great! It got her a little more interested in what was going into her body. She tried new fruits and vegetables that she might not on her own. She also loved having the tokens to make her own choices." According to Turner, SJ purchased Cherry Jelly with her tokens; okay, we're halfway there?! But, not everyone has such easy access to this information, especially if their children don't attend a school receiving the postcards, or they aren't involved in social networking.


Surely our two major healthcare providers, Carolinas Health Care System: Atrium Health, and CaroMont Health | CaroMont Regional Medical Center, as well as local medical professionals and concerned citizens, could contribute toward healthy and financial choices of the county's elementary students ( not to mention the economy for the market ).  Let's come together and reach as many families as possible, increasing awareness and continued success of this vital program. Perhaps sponsoring an elementary school is an option.


Ready to donate or need more information? Contact La Verne Partlowe at at 704-862-6134. Not fully convinced? Come experience the POP Club first hand this Saturday at the Gastonia Farmers Market, located at 410 E Long Ave, anytime between 9:00 - 11:30 AM! This week's activity is making fruit pizzas! YUM! We'll be there!


While a 4 year-old may not necessarily choose a carrot over a cookie, with the help of POP Club there's a chance s/he will not only learn to identify it, but enjoy it as well. What, after all, could enhance their health, financial education, and taste of that cookie more? 





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