Market success in a SNAP-shot! Hear stories of resilience and inspiration from community leaders administering beneficial food access programs at local farmers markets!
September, 13 2021
By Josey MacDonald
The Butte Farmers Market is offering much more than just fresh fruits and vegetables this season. Through collaborations with local partners, the market’s newest program creates opportunities for learning, literacy, and conversation, hoping to spark passion and provide resources for parents and kids alike.
The program, called Supermarket Speaks, is designed to promote local, nutritious options while also encouraging early childhood literacy and social interaction. The program was a collaborative effort, coming about through work between the Butte Farmers Market, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, and Zero to Five Butte-Silver Bow, an organization that works to support families and improve systems for parenting young children.
The physical backbone of Supermarket Speaks is made up of packets of cards that families can collect and carry through the market. Decorated with bright colors and fun animals, the cards contain market-related prompts about things like color, shape, estimation, and weight. The cards aim to make the market a more conversational space for families, giving parents ideas on how to engage young kids in discussions about the market and the food they’re buying.
The prompts are designed to build kids’ vocabulary and reading ability, an important skill for kindergarten readiness. However, Cass Weber, the local collaboration coordinator for Butte Zero to Five, noted that the social-emotional skills the cards encourage are just as crucial. “Almost every kindergarten teacher that we work with will tell you they don’t care if the kid can count to ten yet. They do care if they are able to self-regulate and problem solve a conflict,” said Weber. “So that’s what we’re really trying to enhance as much as we can by combining these efforts.”
Shelby Anderson, Zero to Five’s project manager, agreed. “The more that we can utilize this time in the day that is perfect for talking through things that you’re seeing at the market or problems or questions about whether something is good or bad… the better for learning outcomes and parent relationships,” she explained.
Along with the literacy prompts, the packets include recipes, developed with the Harvest of the Month program, that describe the nutritional benefits of various vegetables and fruits and creative ways to use them. Each month, a different crop is highlighted. “We kind of use this as an opportunity to have families come back and get new recipe cards for the new month coming in,” said Anderson. This has been effective: Anderson has noticed people seeing the value in the cards, coming back to get new ones and holding onto the ones they have. “It’s really cool that people are thinking about it the next time they’re going to the farmers market,” she said.
Although Supermarket Speaks is still relatively new, being piloted at the market for the first time this season, it is already drawing some new faces to the farmers market, particularly among younger families. Abbie Phillip, Butte’s SNAP nutrition educator, is encouraged by this increase in participation. “That’s what we want to see, we want to see parents coming and enjoying the scene and having those conversations with their little ones about tasty foods, local foods, things they’re curious about,” said Phillip. “It’s really encouraging to see new people come every market.”
Phillip also noted that there has been an increase in vendors, particularly produce vendors, at the market this year. “It’s nice to see that we’re holding strong and part of the growth is I think totally attributed to that we can just bring more shoppers to the market and allow more people to participate,” she said. Local partnerships have helped the market extend its reach, amplifying its ability to make a difference in the community.
Courtney Nucito, the SNAP and Double SNAP coordinator, is especially excited to have a couple new farmers from around Butte, as many of the market’s Double-SNAP eligible produce vendors come from Missoula or the Bitterroot Valley. Sugar Beet Row, a produce farmer out of Whitehall who entered the scene last year, is one of the vendors that Nucito describes as a “big win” for the market. “It’s nice to know that it’s possible to grow food within a 25 mile range of Butte…my hopes are that potentially them being at the market inspires more people to go into fruit and vegetable production around here,” said Nucito.
Supermarket Speaks has also helped highlight food access programs at the market such as SNAP and Double SNAP. “We try to set our table up right next to the Double SNAP Dollar table,” said Weber. “We want to support them as much as possible.” The packets contain information about the market’s SNAP programs, which helps draw in new families who may not have been familiar with these opportunities previously. “This additional programming that’s going on in the market has definitely garnered more interest in what SNAP at the market is and what it means,” said Nucito. This has been especially important in the past year, as the pandemic has made food access more limited. The market and its programs have helped fill in some of the gaps for families.
In the future, Butte Farmers Market and Zero to Five hope to expand Supermarket Speaks into more locations so that it can exist year-round. Now that the program has proven to be sustainable at the market, garnering positive feedback from consumers, Phillip thinks it will be easier to move into smaller neighborhood stores, town pumps, and maybe eventually larger retail stores.
Supermarket Speaks’ fun, bright cards could be viewed as relevant only to little kids. But the program’s impacts are far greater than that. Supermarket Speaks is helping to support parents, increase demand for local food, and highlight nutritious, inexpensive choices. And it’s showing kids the joy and community of the farmers market in the process.