Assembling the Recipes: A Toolkit for Nutrition Education

      Posted On: July 13, 2011

by Elizabeth Comiskey

More and more farmers markets are serving as launching pads for community health education.  Activities like flash mobbing, designed to get people moving, are happening alongside efforts to teach customers how to cook new foods and encourage children to eat and appreciate fruits and vegetables. Left and right, farmers markets are inspiring customers with creative recipes.  So, where can farmers markets reach for ideas and tools that avoid reinvention of the wheel?

This past spring, the USDA offered Americans a new alternative to the food pyramid- My Plate.  It’s simple layout gives people a clear visual reminder that fruits and vegetables are not a garnish; rather, half of our plates should be filled with them. The website itself has relevant content that can be great for adding to newsletters, discussions, or facts on the market information table.  In fact, the first link on their vegetable tips page directs users to the USDA Farmers Market Directory!

With so many irresistible recipes featured in weekly market newsletters, one can’t help but wonder how many of them ever get tested (or even improved!) in shoppers’ kitchens.  Recently, Janet Chrzan at Oakmont Farmers Market (PA) asked fellow subscribers to the FMC listserv about online recipe databases. She later compiled and shared the responses she received: An enormous search engine of recipes from top sites, magazines, and books that allows users to create a library database.  The library can be customized and selected recipes can be made into real physical cookbooks.

Living Cookbook easily imports recipes, provides nutrient analysis, and permits users to categorize recipes by “chapters.” There is a product fee, however.

WordPress features a number of different recipe plugins; one called Recipe Press was recommended in particular. Plugins are typically free, and markets using WordPress as a website can search the plugin database for recipe options by going to wp-admin > plugins > add new.
Users can also use WordPress and other blog back end systems to label recipes as they’re added to the blog; users can then search via the right navigation bar: For an example, visit

Evernote, while not a recipe database per se, is a free database system for managing information. Looks pretty powerful but users must have password access.

Many markets choose to compile farmer and shopper recipes into custom cookbooks that can then be sold. Many chefs, too, have written books with an emphasis on farmers markets.  This spring, one such cookbook was published, The Farmers Kitchen.  The authors, Julia Shanks and Brett Grohsgal, bring a mixed background in culinary arts and organic farming.  Grohsgal owns and manages Even’ Star Organic Farm in Lexington Park, Maryland, where he and his crew harvest several crops twelve months a year for five restaurants, two grocery stores, two universities, and one farmers market. His expertise as a farmer and former chef, along with Shanks’ career as chef and educator, put them in a nice position to help other CSAs and market.  They offer customized farm and farmers market cookbooks at affordable prices.

Some parents know the secret to getting kids to love their fruits and veggies is to get them excited about them, and we all know that one way to get excited about them is to know your farmers.  At the Oregon City Farmers Market in Oregon, this spring children were able to join the POP Club for Kids.  They received a “Passport for Health” that was stored at the market information table and then every time they came to the market, the children received a $2 wooden token to spend on fruits and veggies.  Replicating that program would be wonderful, but to get kids on board in the without undertaking such an extensive project, the Produce for Better Health Foundation has a plethora of great kid friendly produce factoids, including how to interest kids in vegetables and a list of produce according to the rainbow.

Health and nutrition information is everywhere, and sometimes it can be frustrating to see photos of ‘ideal meals’ consist of items that obviously come out of a can.  Markets are in the perfect positions to utilize all of the resources that are pouring in to the media all the while spicing things by showing off the beautiful food from the farms we love.  Have you ever seen a child discover a broccoli romanesco for the first time?  It is like witnessing a little miracle!