Updated July 31, 2014.
Where I live, the growing season is pretty short. So visiting a farmers' market feels like a special treat—just one of the many reasons to treasure summer. Plus, taking the kids to the market is ideal for helping them learn about healthy foods. Try these farmers' market activities for families the next time you shop the market. You'll get some physical activity (bonus points if you walk or bike to the market), some fresh air, and some nutrition learning all in one big basket.
Reusable, of course!
This one's a classic: Challenge each child to find fruits and vegetables in every color of the rainbow, or work together as a family to assemble your colorful collection. You don't even have to buy everything you identify. Play "I Spy" style if you like. You could even color a rainbow in advance and bring it along as a guide.
Most kids love to take photos. Give them a kids' camera, pick up a disposable, or hand over your smartphone and let them shoot the sights of the market. Give them a list of ideas in advance, or just give them free rein—it's fun to see what inspires them!
Check your market's website or Facebook page before you go. Many have special events and activities for kids—free, or for a nominal fee. Your child might be able to attend a cooking demo, make a food-inspired craft, or participate in a community art project. You also might stumble on a free concert. If so, take the opportunity to dance!
Plant Your Own
You can often find seedlings, potted herbs, and other small plants for sale at the farmers' market.
Pick some up for your windowsills or yard so you can try your hand at "farming" activities too!
Is there a geocache hiding in the farmer's market or nearby? Search it out. Even if you've found it before, there may be a new treasure inside to discover. (Be sure to replenish the cache if you remove something from it.)
Gather the ingredients to make a salad that includes all the parts of a plant: Roots (such as carrots), stems (asparagus or celery), leaves (lettuce or spinach), flowers (arugula, marigolds, broccoli), seeds (sunflower seeds), and fruit (apples, tomatoes).
Family Recipe Contest
Shop the market for the freshest ingredients, then come home and get creative in the kitchen. If you don't want to compete (or kids are too little), collaborate on a recipe instead. You can pick a theme before you hit the market, or let the goods on offer inspire your ideas.
Make a point of noticing what's new at the market each time you go. Celebrate those first strawberries, sweet corn, and tomatoes and use them to teach kids about which foods are in season when. They may even want to mark their findings on a calendar and compare notes with friends and family in other parts of the country. Or they can use their notes to count down to Tomato Time next summer.
When you arrive at the farmers' market, set out to discover champions like the biggest tomato, longest ear of corn, or ugliest potato. Draw a picture and give it to the farmer. Or take these award winners home and chow down. You'll be showing kids that produce that doesn't look supermarket-ready is still delicious.