BY YANAN WANG | I heard the sounds of the PS 11 Farm Market before I arrived. Above the soft chatter of adult voices, kids were shouting out words I hadn’t heard before: “Purslane! Kohlrabi! Sorrel!” In front of a white counter displaying a colorful arrangement of produce, eggs and maple syrup, parents and third-graders talked excitedly about that day’s sales. Groups of two or three kids were approaching passersby with paper slips, asking them whether they wanted to buy tickets for a raffle. The winner, a girl named Kimberly eagerly explained, would receive eggs hatched by the PS 11 chickens.
“Eggs in the supermarket come from big farms, where the chickens are all in one coop,” she said gravely. “We raised these chickens in our yard.”
When I was eight years old, I thought that eating local meant going to the Vietnamese restaurant a few blocks away from our house. The concept of “organic” had never entered my mind, and my only concerns while out at the grocery store with my mom had been whether we would be buying popsicles or ice cream. I had a lot to learn from the third-graders behind the counter.
The PS 11 Farm Market began six years ago under the leadership of programs director Deborah Osborne. It was a natural offshoot of their existing health and nutrition initiative, Osborne explained, and it would give families access to local foods.
“This is very much in line with the philosophies and goals of the school,” she said.
Every PS 11 third grader is given the opportunity to operate the market, from bagging groceries and weighing produce to making change and unloading the truck on Tuesday afternoons. Interacting with the farmer who delivers the goods has allowed the students to see a link between themselves and what they sell, Osborne noted.
For parents, the farm market has been an effective way of getting their children excited about eating fruits and vegetables. “There’s the feeling that they’re connected to the food,” said Sami Plotkin, the mother of a third-grader. “Now my son has an interest in eating healthy.”
On the counter sat a plate of chopped kohlrabi for sampling. After I took a piece, a boy named Luke who was overseeing that section of the table promptly asked me, “Will you be buying some of this?”
I replied politely that I had only five dollars to spend (a limit set by my editor), so I needed to consider the other vegetables first before deciding on my purchase. Ever the persistent salesperson, Luke smiled coyly and asked me what, then, he could interest me in using my money on.
“We got everything from Stoneledge Farm,” he said proudly. “Fresh, no pesticide, local…” A girl behind him chimed in, “And it’s organic!”
They knew their product well. Taking my laughter as further curiosity, Luke began explaining to me why the vegetables from Stoneledge were better than what you would normally get at the supermarket: “In-season means that you only eat the vegetable when you’re supposed to. You’re not supposed to eat tomatoes in the winter, because there is a lot of percent chance that they’re going to taste bad or be made from chemicals.”
I blushed. After two decades of eating tomatoes regardless of the season, it’s not easy to be told by an eight-year-old that you’ve been doing it wrong all this time.
The students’ enthusiasm for their food provider is likely a result of their recent field trip to Stoneledge. Because of the long distance to the farm (a two-hour bus ride to South Cairo, NY), this year has been the first in which students were able to see first-hand the origin of their wares. “They really got their hands dirty,” Osborne said, recalling that the third-graders walked through the fields and picked corn and rosemary to take home.
For some students, the trip was a lesson in perspective.
“At first it looked empty, but we learned that the places that look empty aren’t always empty on the inside,” said Tyler of Mr. Hand’s class. “Just that the seeds aren’t sprouting yet so we couldn’t see them.”
The Farm Market takes place Wednesdays, from 8-10am, at PS 11 (320 W. 21st St., btw. 8th & 9th Aves.). For more info, email email@example.com or visit ps11chelsea.org.