Farmers’ markets offer a greater variety of fruits and vegetables than you find in stores. A key to increasing farmers’ market sales and fruit and vegetable consumption is to introduce consumers to these new varieties and teach them how to select, prepare and store them. The challenge for Extension agents is how to find time and other resources to meet the needs of a growing number of consumers at farmers’ markets.
The i-Master Food Volunteers project brings Master Food Volunteers to the farmers’ market. Trained volunteers can extend the reach of Extension agents to meet the demands of consumers looking for locally produced food.
Nothing draws a person to food like the sight and smells of a demonstration and tasting. Along with the demonstrations, there are opportunities to talk about healthy eating, food storage and to teach consumers about their local farmers.
The project will be conducted from April through September in two pilot counties, Rutherford County in Tennessee and Bedford County in Virginia. During that time, the i-Master Food Volunteer team will use technology to assess the impact of Master Food Volunteers at farmers’ markets on 1) purchase of fruits and vegetables sold at the market and 2) consumption of fruits and vegetables. Near the end of the project, the team will collect follow-up information from consumers and conduct focus groups with farmers from the market.
Volunteers will receive training using a curriculum developed by Virginia Cooperative Extension (http://www.ext.vt.edu/topics/food-health/master-food-volunteer/) to prepare them to teach at farmers’ markets. Educational sessions will be adapted from Just Say Yes to Fruits and Vegetables developed by New York State Food Banks (http://jsyfruitveggies.org/) and Farmers’ Market Fresh (FMF) developed by University of Tennessee Extension (https://ag.tennessee.edu/fcs/Pages/Food/FarmersMarketFresh.aspx). Preliminary data from a FMF pilot in 12 Tennessee counties showed that:
- 3,198 of 29,071 FMF participants surveyed reported increased consumption of locally-grown fruits.
- 5,523 of 29,071 FMF participants surveyed reported increased consumption of locally-grown vegetables.
- SNAP redemption at the FMF pilot markets increased by over $3,600 from $13,032.25 to $16,653.00 in 2015.
At the end of the project, a protocol and instruments will be developed for collecting impact from consumers and farmers. These will be shared through eXtension.org and will provide an opportunity to share the value of Extension programs at farmers’ markets with the public.