Sprouts at the Market is a free monthly event located on the corner of Illinois and Vine streets in downtown Urbana. It is held for children and their parents with the intent to get kids excited about locally grown produce. Sprouts features a different theme each month to compliment the foods provided by local farmers at the market.
Natalie Kenny Marquez, the market director, oversees this and many other events and day-to-day planning that go into making Sprouts at the Market and other Market-related programs a success.
The previous director started Sprouts at the Market, and now the event is in its fifth year. That director loved the farmers market and wanted to come up with something more kid-friendly to target youth. Contact was made between the director and a dietician who graduated from the University, and the rest “grew” from there.
“I guess you could say Sprouts is one of the programs I inherited when I took over this position,” Marquez said. “I’ve tried to keep the momentum going.”
She is attempting to get more school involvement in the pre-K classrooms to encourage kids in the target range of ages 3-8 to come out and enjoy the event.
One of the unique things about Sprouts at the Market is that it gives kids a chance to interact with the farmers who grow the foods they are eating. Children can ask questions and hear stories straight from the source.
“Kids make the connection between what they eat and who grew it after attending this event,” Marquez said. “They’ll recognize the farmers and say, ‘Oh, that’s farmer so-and-so who makes the tomatoes!’ It’s great to see those relationships forming.”
Each month is focused on a different theme. Many are recycled from the past, but some have changed. In May, over 100 kids showed up for “Farm to Table — As Fresh as it Gets!” which focused on the process of how food goes from the ground to your mouth. Marquez said the attendance varies from month to month, but the favorite theme among the kids is “Let’s Eat Our Colors!” scheduled to occur on July 6.
“Each table is a different color, and all the food matches the crayons on the table that the kids can color with,” she said. “Since having this job, now I constantly think, ‘I need more colors on the plate!’ when I prepare meals for my own kids.”
Something all new this year is the September theme, “From Dirt to Dessert… And Beyond!” featuring educators from The Great Pumpkin Patch. The educators will teach kids about all the different kinds of squash and pumpkins and how they turn into delectable treats. The “Let’s Eat Our Colors!” and “What’s on My Plate?” are two themes repeated from years past.
“Even though some of the themes are the same, we try to put a different spin on them with a new concept,” Marquez said. “Some families are die-hard Sprout fans and come every year. We want to make sure we’re offering something for everyone so they can come back year after year and learn something new.”
Looking into the future, Marquez hopes to get a related program started that would be geared more for adults. She said she gets lots of requests to volunteer and get involved somehow from the parents of Sprouts.
“We could call it Sprouted!” Marquez laughed.
The Sprouts at the Market program is part of a much larger event: Urbana’s Market at the Square. This farmers market is one of the largest and most diverse in all of Illinois and has been running since 1979. A number of events take place at the market including art shows and musical performances. The items sold are not limited to produce but also include meat, crafts, pottery, candles, dairy products and much more.
Sprouts at the Market is held on the first Saturday of each month from May through October, 9:30-11:30 a.m. Go to urbanaillinois.us/sprouts for more information.