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Youngsters Warm to Cooking with Kids at NW Mich. Fair

Farmers market, 4-H Club add to local food flavors

August 15, 2011 | By Glenn Puit
Great Lakes Bulletin News Service

  Hundreds of youngsters and parents learned about the wonderful taste of local food at MLUI’s third annual Cooking with Kids day.

TRAVERSE CITY—Tomatoes, green and red peppers, cucumbers, and radishes.

Goat cheese, milk, fresh blueberries, and strawberries.

Pasta salad with cherry vinaigrette. Wraps with locally made peanut butter. Even smoothies!

These healthy, fresh, locally grown or produced foods were the fare for more than 440 kids and their parents at the third annual Cooking With Kids event at the Northwestern Michigan Fair  on August 10. In a setting traditionally saturated with high fat, high-sugar, processed foods like French fries, corn dogs, and cotton candy, kids and their parents were given healthy, locally grown alternatives—and learned a little about how to prepare and serve them. They clearly cherished the opportunity.

“This is more nutritious and it gives them the opportunity to try new things and stuff that is healthy for them—things they may not have tried before,” said Amber Hoeksema, who brought her young son to Cooking With Kids.

Dawn Schulz, of Benzonia, brought her three grandchildren to the fair and was impressed with the food her grandchildren got to eat.

“The kids love the vegetables,” she said. “We don’t really care for hot dogs and all the other greasy foods. It’s a wonderful experience, and I recommend everyone come out and try it.”

Cooking with Kids is a program of The Michigan Land Use Institute and the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network. It is part of a growing movement at the fair to provide more healthy options for fairgoers.

Chefs preparing food at Cooking with Kids were from The Cook’s House, Munson Medical Center/Sodexo, Crystal Mountain Resort & Spa, and Traverse City Area Public Schools. Businesses providing food included Cherry Capital Foods, Moomers, Oleson’s Food Stores, and Oryana Natural Foods Market.

Also at the fair this week was a farmers market that provided new activities for families and kids: gardening fun, storytelling, and enjoyable ways to eat healthy and local with the region’s agricultural bounty. The 4-H food vendor has also started incorporating locally grown produce in its recipes.

Fair President Dana Cederquist said he’s thrilled with the increased healthy food options at the fair. He said it brings more attendees to the fair every year and also fits in with the fair’s agricultural heritage.

“We have a really great program going on with Taste The Local Difference,” Mr. Cederquist said. “Our fair started 103 years ago and it all started with an agricultural movement, and we are continuing with that.”

Christi Tipsword, coordinator of the Northwest Michigan Diabetes Initiative, said her organization was proud to sponsor Cooking With Kids because of its obvious health benefits.

“We are showing the whole family how to use locally grown foods instead of resorting to processed foods,” she said. “It is important to choose local, healthy fresh foods because they are more nutritious and it helps with the obesity epidemic that is contributing to people getting diabetes. It’s a very serious problem and there’s a lot we can do to prevent it in most cases.”

Other Cooking with Kids sponsors included Head Start of the Northwest Michigan Community Action Agency and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan/Blue Care Network. This year the Michigan Blues added a new physical activity to the fair, one with a local food connection. People who walked the fair grounds and had a card stamped three times—starting at Cooking with Kids—received $2 in Taste the Local Difference dollars to spend at the farmers market.

Farmers made nearly $500 in extra sales from the Taste the Local Difference dollars. One farmer was tickled when a little boy pointed to her table. “I want that cabbage,” he said.

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