WORTHINGTON — Getting people to eat their fruits and vegetables can be tough, but the Worthington Farmers Market has a few incentive programs that might help.

New to the market this year is Power of Produce Plus. Any adult age 60 or older can stop by the PoP Plus table on Tuesdays at the farmers market to pick up a free $4 token that can be used to purchase fresh fruits and veggies from local growers.

“There’s nothing you need to do to qualify,” said Claire Henning, health educator and Statewide Health Improvement Partnership coordinator with Nobles County.

She does ask people she speaks with just a few questions, often starting with “Do you know anybody over the age of 60?” to avoid hurting anyone’s feelings. Then she’ll ask them for their name, zip code and “age-ish” — rather than asking for precise ages — plus how many years they’ve been shopping at the farmers market.

Respondents then receive a wooden token they can exchange for $4 of produce with almost any vendor, either on Tuesday or at the Saturday farmers market. Vendors turn in tokens each week and get reimbursed at the end of the month.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“We have vendors that are doing well with the program,” Henning said. Some of them have taken to asking shoppers if they’ve received their tokens, and then refer customers to Henning.

Funds for the project came from a $5,000 grant from the Minnesota River Area Agency on Aging, through Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security funding. Henning said she hopes to allocate all the grant money for produce, but funds need to be used up by the end of September. So far, the program has paid for $1,500 in produce for farmers market customers.

The PoP Plus program is a spinoff of sorts from the Power of Produce Club program introduced in Worthington in 2019.

The PoP Club

After a year-long hiatus due to COVID-19, the PoP program is back at the Worthington Farmers Market this year too, offering kids from second to sixth grade $2 tokens so they can choose their own fresh produce.

“The kids really love that, they can pick their own,” said University of Minnesota Extension Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) educator Letty Rodriguez. “When families were coming to the market, what better way to initiate them, or involve them in getting fruits and vegetables than to give them a little token?”

Prior to the advent of COVID-19, children too young to receive the token instead participated in an age-appropriate activity with Rodriguez. Now they will receive a booklet or activity to take home instead, she said.

Rodriguez has already given out 58 tokens, meaning that area children have already brought home $116 worth of peppers, potatoes, onions, watermelons or whatever produce happened to be in season and eye-catching enough for a child to want.

“We just want them to consume more fruits and vegetables,” Rodriguez said.

Studies have shown that the more kids are involved in the food preparation process, the more likely they are to eat the food, she added, and even a 2-year-old can participate in some simple tasks like tearing apart lettuce.

“It’s just so special to them,” Rodriguez said. “And there are studies that (show), if you eat as a family that’s important as well.”

The program, a collaboration between University of Minnesota Extension and local groups including Nobles County 4-H and Girl Scouts of Nobles County, aims to increase family participation and vendor revenue at farmers markets, as well as building healthier communities, according to the PoP Club website.

Funds for the PoP Club come from local donors, with a total of $800 raised in 2019. About $300 or $400 remains to be used this year.

Rodriguez intends to seek donations and grants so the program can continue next year. Anyone interested in donating to the program should send checks or cash to the Worthington Area Chamber of Commerce, 1121 Third Ave.

Just like the PoP Plus tokens for people age 60 and older, the PoP tokens for kids in second through sixth grade are available at the Tuesday farmers market in Worthington, but may also be used at the Saturday farmers market.

For more information, visit extension.umn.edu/local-foods/power-produce-pop-club.

SNAP Market Bucks

Another program returning to the farmers market for its sixth season is Market Bucks, which allows people enrolled in the federal SNAP food assistance program to maximize their benefits by matching them dollar-for-dollar, up to $10.

“A partnership between SMOC (Southwest Minnesota Opportunity Council) and Community Wellness Partners through Nobles County Public Health helped to bring the Market Bucks program to the Worthington Farmers Market in 2016,” said Christine Bullerman, the program’s coordinator.

Market Bucks is paid for through legislative funding via Hunger Solutions Minnesota, which advances programs tackling hunger on a large scale and advocates for action on food security in Minnesota, said Bullerman, a community program specialist with Sanford Worthington Medical Center.

“We don’t apply for a grant to cover the cost. Hunger Solutions will literally reimburse us for however many Market Bucks are turned in, no matter how big or small the reimbursement,” she added.

Shoppers enrolled in SNAP can use their electronic benefits transfer cards to buy any SNAP-eligible food at the market, including fresh fruit and vegetables as well as honey, jams, jellies, pickles, baked goods, eggs, fish, meat and dairy products.

In 2020, $184,365 Market Bucks were spent in cities across Minnesota — including farmers markets in Worthington, Luverne and Pipestone.

“Vendors turn in their tokens and market bucks collected at the end of each market night, we tally them up, and reimburse them once a month,” Bullerman said. “It’s a win-win for our EBT customers and our market vendors.”

She is still seeking volunteers to help with Market Bucks, and anyone interested should call her at 507-227-2917.

Go to the market

Tokens for all three programs are only available at the Tuesday farmers market, though they can also be spent at the Saturday markets.

The Worthington Farmers Market is open from 2 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and from 7 a.m. to noon on Saturdays at the ACE Hardware parking lot.