Keeps its Beet Going: The Lynchburg Community Market is bringing the beet back downtown this summer.
“We Got the Beet,” a program offered by the Market in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health, Central Virginia Health District and the Virginia Cooperative Extension, kicked off last year, thanks to a $50,000 grant from the health department. After a successful inaugural run, another $40,000 was granted by the department to keep the beet booming.
“We all have that common goal of contributing to a healthy and educated community,” explained Market Manager Jennifer Kennedy. “It is a really dynamic partnership.”
The program aims to increase health knowledge among underserved populations and expose them to fresh, locally sourced produce. Another goal of “We Got the Beet” is to increase SNAP patronage at the market.
“We live in a very high needs community,” Kennedy said, noting one in four are SNAP eligible. “In these populations we have a particularly vulnerable population … the youth and seniors. They are really underserved inside of that underserved population … we really want to make sure we are offering programming that will be inviting and target those populations as well.”
Programming is free and runs this year from June 9-Aug. 18 on Wednesdays and Saturdays. After a kickoff celebration the first Saturday, the activities will be the same on both days each week, lasting 30 minutes and starting on the half hour at 10 a.m., 10:30 a.m., 11 a.m. and 11:30 a.m.
Each week focuses on a different health message, rotating, week-by-week, between crafts, wellness, and cooking. The adult activities will mirror the children’s activities, scaled slightly to be age-appropriate.
“The youth programming was so dynamic last year that one of the improvements that we are having in Year Two is that we are going to have them completely replicate each other,” Kennedy said.
During craft weeks guests will create items they can use to apply the lesson from that session day-to-day. Examples include making a container garden, turning a t-shirt into a reusable bag and decorating a wooden garden stick. Wellness activities range from yoga to exercise training with a local fitness club instructor and even POUND fitness, which utilizes drumming. Cooking weeks help bring exposure to local produce, focusing on an in-season ingredient with a cooking demonstration. At the end, the recipe is shared with attendees.
“We really try to focus on its raw form, so people really appreciate the vegetable for what it really is,” Kennedy explained. The program has a “two bite challenge” hoping to get guests to at the very least try something new. “They get the exposure. … You don’t always have to like it, but the access and exposure aims to broaden your horizons to promote that lifelong learning.”
Some may not realize underserved populations struggle with a lack of access to even the simplest ingredients.
“You have kids come through and you hear a child say, ‘I’ve never had a cherry tomato before, I don’t know if I like cherry tomatoes’ and, all of a sudden, they try it and they like it,” Kennedy said. “Things like that that are so impactful… so many of us take for granted that we know what a cherry tomato tastes like, that we know what fresh broccoli tastes like … that is so important.”
That is why Kennedy feels the program is so important, and why the team strives to build engaging, exciting programming.
“What we wanted to do is not necessarily have something that people can already get everywhere, which is read about nutrition in a book or just have someone talk at you,” she said. “We know that is readily available out there. … We wanted to make this something applicable and something that is relatable so that is why we wanted to bring such dynamic components into it.”
One of the ways “We Got the Beet” resonated was through an original hip-hop song, written and performed by local artist Jiggy M. While the lyrics focus on vitamins, nutrition and health, its catchy rhythm and infectious dance are what draw interest and keep the message playing in children’s minds. The music video—which features the rapper, local schoolchildren and the program’s Beet mascot—has been shared and viewed tens of thousands of times on social media and even a year later Kennedy sees kids, unprompted, breaking out the song’s choreographed moves or repeating verses from it when she visits schools to promote “We Got the Beet.”
The program is structured to incentivize people to keep coming back. Each week guests come home with items to build their chef’s toolkit, such as measuring cups, spatulas or apple slicers, as well as promotional materials. Those who attend two out of the three weeks in each cycle receive a take home “beet box” with items to help them cook the recipe at home. Journals are also provided to help children think through what they have learned and share (via emoji beet faces) what they thought of what they tasted or experienced. Adults are also encouraged to journal at the events so they can take home new cooking and exercise ideas. The program will wrap up with a graduation celebration (Aug. 15 and 18).
Last year, “We Got the Beet” served approximately 400 participants. Most said afterward that they care more about eating healthy and have become more physically active. Of the children surveyed, nearly half said they now choose water over other beverages when thirsty (a ten percent increase from the start of the program) and 90 percent said they like trying new foods (up from 60 percent).
Verna Lamb, whose son Thomas, age 10, participated last summer, appreciated how the program reinforced the healthy eating habits she tries to encourage at home.
“I liked how they initially got the kids to try a vegetable and talked about good health and how to incorporate good eating habits,” she said. “I liked how they made it fun with different activities.”
Thomas agreed that it was “very fun.”
“They had all different kinds of activities there, like a bouncy castle,” he said. Thomas said the programming helped him to try things he might not otherwise. Now, he would encourage other children, “Don’t be afraid to try different foods just because they look bad.”
In the effort to help expand the horizons of Lynchburger’s palates, the market offered a “2-for-1 SNAP dollars” promotion last year (which it hopes to be able to offer again this summer).
“That incentive was putting more healthy foods on the tables of people who desperately need it,” Kennedy said. “Helping families.”
Not only did that mean double the fruits and veggies for many who might not otherwise have them, it also meant more support for area growers. And that is what “We Got the Beet” is all about—a strong healthy community, where Lynchburg Locavores support one another.
“We want to try to help people to live better,” Kennedy said.
“That is a common goal of this great collaboration between the three groups. If we can offer programming that is building a foundation for that, then we are all beyond elated to think that we are helping individuals in our community live just a little bit better.”
Learn more about “We Got the Beet” at lynchburgcommunitymarket.com/wegotthebeet.
Photos COURTESY: CITY OF LYNCHBURG