Festhalle

Shoppers gather at the Festhalle Tuesday.

The public-greeting doors at the North Alabama Agriplex may be temporarily close, but that doesn’t mean the Agriplex is counting these days of social distancing as downtime.

From now through October, the Agriplex and other partnering local agencies are starting kids off on their own agricultural shopping spree, thanks to a new program that gives them a little spending power at the Festhalle Farmers Market.

Every Saturday from 8 a.m. until noon, kids aged 14 and under who show up at the Farmer’s Market can get $4 in free vouchers to spend on fresh produce right then and there. The produce-procuring dollars in kids’ hands are called POP Bucks, and they’re part of a nationwide program called POP (Power of Produce) sponsored by the national Farmers Market Coalition, a nonprofit committed to strengthening farmers markets across the U.S.

“It’s a great program, and we’ve had some generous local sponsors who have funded the POP Bucks for the kids who come to the market,” said Agriplex director Rachel Dawsey. “It’s a great time for it, too, because even with some of the road work that’s going on in front of the farmer’s market this summer, the farmers are definitely there, and there’s a delicious variety of produce for kids to choose from.”

While there’re always more goodies than just produce at the farmer’s market, Dawsey said the POP program is squarely aimed at getting kids to feel empowered to make their own healthy food choices.

“They can’t buy cookies with it,” she laughed, “but any fresh produce — veggies, herbs, peanuts, honey, fruits, and things like that — are all fair game. There’s so much that’s in season and at the market right now: watermelons, peaches, peppers, blueberries, blackberries, squash, sweet corn, okra, tomatoes. In fact, I just had a delicious cantaloupe from Haynes Farm. Everything at the market is really fresh, and it’s all local.”

Local sponsors fund the POP program through donations that keep the dollars — or, in this case, POP Bucks — ready to land in kids’ farmer’s market wallets. So far, the list of sponsors contributing to the program includes Dr. Joel and Mallory Adams; Jeb Williamson, CPA; Cullman Primary Care; Dr. Johnathon Echols — Cullman Family and Cosmetic Dentistry; Catoma Dermatology; Suzanne Wood; Dr. Michael Graham & Graham Orthodontics; Cullman Regional; St. John and Associates; and Landscape Consultants.

Local agencies including the Cullman Parks & Recreation Department and Cullman Farm City takes weekly turns with the Agriplex staffing the POP table at the farmer’s market. To get your kids started with their own free POP Bucks, just look for the table under the Festhalle from 8-12 on Saturdays.

Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, the Agriplex has canceled its on-site lineup of July activities, but the nonprofit’s website remains a useful resource for all things ag-related. Learn more about the Agriplex’s ongoing programs (and be the first to know whether they’ll resume in August) by visiting agriplex.org.

Benjamin Bullard can be reached by phone at 256-734-2131 ext. 234.

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