The schoolyard at the Lincoln Annex School on Somerset Street in New Brunswick was abuzz on a chilly day in October. The clackety clack of a prize wheel and delighted cries of children claiming their apples and mini pumpkins gave the aura of a carnival, however this festivity was actually a health and wellness-based farmers market. This pop-up version of the New Brunswick Community Farmers Market (NBCFM), is a part of a larger initiative building a healthy food web in New Brunswick.
“Community Connections” aims to build stronger bridges between the local wellness initiatives in the New Brunswick community, and nutrition and health-related activities in New Brunswick’s Lincoln Elementary (K-3) and Annex (4-8) Schools to support a healthier food and active living environment for children and their families. These stronger connections between the school’s activities and the local, environment-based activities are intended to synergistically promote wellness in New Brunswick.
Immigrant families make up a large part of the local community in New Brunswick. When these families adapt to new lifestyles and food choices, children can become the drivers of these changes due to their bilingual skills and greater exposure to the newer food and lifestyle choices, what they learn in the school environment, and peer pressure. This is one of the reasons why Community Connections works with the local schools to help promote healthier eating and active living patterns for New Brunswick families.
Community Connections is a collaborative project–in addition to Rutgers Department of Nutritional Sciences, the partners include the Lincoln Annex School administration; New Jersey FoodCorps organization which delivers the educational content to the students; New Brunswick Community Food Alliance, which co-sponsors Hub City Fresh (healthy corner store initiative); and New Brunswick Tomorrow, which sponsors Live Well/Vivir Bien and Ciclovia. While the bridging of these initiatives is a cooperative effort, one person serves as the head engineer–Nurgul Fitzgerald, associate professor and extension specialist in nutrition and public health at Rutgers Department of Nutritional Sciences.
Fitzgerald’s efforts to integrate these initiatives reinforces families being exposed to healthy messages on multiple fronts. The exhibitors and educational activities at the Lincoln Annex Farmers Market included nutrition education and outreach delivered by the nutrition students Fitzgerald advises through her New Brunswick Community Farmers Market Nutrition Program, Kappa Omicron Nu Nutrition Honor Society, and G.H. Cook Honors program; New Brunswick Community Food Alliance, Live Well/Vivir Bien, and FoodCorps. The day selected for the farmers market was Annex school’s parent-teacher conference day with an early dismissal, allowing good attendance for both students and their parents. In addition to the fall fresh fruits and vegetables on sale through NBCFM, Food Alliance hosted a game that involved a prize wheel that lands on a nutrition, health or food topic. The kids were asked to show how to do a push-up, how to jump rope, what’s their favorite food, and how they cook that.
The pop-up farm market at the school was the first time the support programs and NBCFM have been held simultaneously at a school, and the results were encouraging. Fitzgerald commented, “I think Lincoln Annex Farmers Market was a success for everyone involved. It was good for our local farmer, and we have received so much positive feedback about the event. I have heard from several people asking when we would have the next farmers market.” Fitzgerald noted how the activities were fun and engaging, “The students enjoyed participating in the interactive nutrition games, and they had a blast picking the fruits and vegetables they liked. About 175 students had each earned $1 Market Buck in the classroom activities earlier in the week, and they had fun spending it at the Farmers Market. The school administration, teachers and the staff were very helpful and happy with the turnout as well.”
FoodCorps educator Madison Conroy and coordinator Hayley Klein hosted an apple tasting station so the children could sample the different varieties of apples from the market’s vendor Pop’s Farm – golden delicious, Fuji and red delicious. Conroy commented, “The Lincoln Annex Farmers Market was a huge success! We were able to put on an amazing event that had a great turnout from parents, teachers, students and community members. The feedback from the school, especially the students was all positive, talking about the great tasting produce they had tried, and saying they hoped there would be another market soon. One student said, ‘I got grapes at the Farmer’s Market and they were the BEST grapes I ever had, I hope you have another market soon’. The Market Bucks that were given to the children were an awesome addition and a lot of students were able to try fruits such as apples, oranges, etc.” Conroy added, “The principal, Mr.Chiodo also spoke very highly of the event, thanking the organizations for putting it together, everyone who attended, and mentioning the great tasting produce. I hope we are able to have another market at that school, and to work with organizations for more successful community/school events!”
Community Connections is funded as a part of the New Jersey Healthy Communities Network, with funding provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s New Jersey Health Initiatives. The two-year project was funded earlier in 2018, with Fitzgerald as the project lead.