Something is sprouting at Margy Hooker’s certified organic Tanglewood Berry Farm in southwest Fort Wayne.
You’ll find them swarming on the first Saturday of the month as Hooker tries to do her part to address childhood obesity.
On those days, the farm at 2427 S. Hadley Road rolls out the special programming of its new Little Sprouts club. The group is designed to get the youngest generation interested in eating healthful fruits and vegetables – and making the farm-to-fork connection Hooker has espoused for years as an area chef, former restaurant owner and cookbook author.
We need to grow a new generation of healthy eaters, Hooker says.
Nationally, statistics show that one in five children ages 2 to 5 is overweight or obese, as is one in three young people ages 6 to 19. Health officials say too much junk food and sedentary lifestyles are contributing to a problem that will lead to serious health concerns – and costs – in the future.
At a recent conference Hooker attended in Fort Wayne, those numbers were brought closer to home, she says. Speakers pointed out that in Indiana, nearly one in three children ages 2 to 5 are overweight or obese – more than the national average.
Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County health commissioner, also told attendees that substantial parts of Fort Wayne were classed as a food desert because of residents’ limited access to healthful, fresh food.
One in five city children lives in poverty, and one in four faces food insecurity – not having access to a sufficient quantity or quality of food. The situation leads to unhealthy food choices, with convenient or inexpensive foods winning out over more nutritious ones, McMahan reported.
Hooker says one stumbling block to children’s eating better is that they can’t learn to eat foods they’ve never tried.
Little Sprouts, she says, encourages children to sample new fruits and vegetables, such as snow peas or blackberries, by offering free tastes of the farm’s fresh, in-season produce.
Each time kids come to the farm and eat a new food, they get a sticker on a card, and when the card is filled, they receive a gift from the farm.
Children also get a small reusable market tote to take home purchased produce; Hooker believes that will make them more invested in what they eat.
Because the program also is trying to address sedentary habits, hula hoops and other active toys for kids to play with are available during market hours, 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays, 1:30 to 6:30 p.m. Thursdays and 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays.
Children also can walk around the farm’s plots with their parents, hike wooded trails on the 22-acre property and harvest food in a U-pick section.
The farm also is offering a setting for yoga classes for kids, combined with a farm-food experience for $15. The next class is 5 to 6 p.m. July 15. A family yoga event has been scheduled for 5 to 6 p.m. Sept. 4.
On first Saturdays, Hooker says, Little Sprouts focuses on education.
The June 9 event was a Farm Bingo scavenger hunt; upcoming activities include visits by a beekeeper, the Fort Wayne Children’s Zoo Zoomobile and a specialist in Indiana trees. The zoo also has provided its discovery boxes to the farm so children can learn more about the environment, she says.
Little Sprouts memberships are $5, and Hooker says she’s willing to waive the fee if parents can’t afford it.
She also partners with child-oriented organizations to bring inner-city children to the farm for tours.
Hooker and her husband, Richard Barnes, began the farm in 2002, after using a garden plot to supply Hooker’s restaurant at the time, Margy’s Café, with fresh produce.
Daughter Camille Cupa brought a degree in plant science/horticulture from the State University of New York to the operation and now serves as the farm’s main grower.
Over the years, the farm’s repertoire of organically grown varieties has expanded to more than 125.
Offered items include herbs, salad greens, tomatoes, cucumbers, edamame, snow peas, sweet corn, cauliflower, broccoli, green and colored string beans, baby kale, beets, squash, peppers, mushrooms, watermelons, cantaloupes, red and yellow raspberries, blackberries, blueberries and strawberries.
Next year, figs and sweet cherries will be ready for the market mix, Hooker says.
The farm’s retail stand opened in 2010. A new development this year is that the stand is serving as a pick-up point for online orders from Seven Sons Family Farms, Roanoke, which provides its own and other area farms’ items, including grass-fed beef, free-range chicken, eggs, turkey, pork, cheeses, yogurt, butter, salmon and local maple syrup.
With goats, chickens, guinea hens and a friendly white Italian sheepdog named Leo to see at Tanglewood as well as fresh food, kids can have fun even as they learn, Hooker says.
Summer is the time to transplant little sprouts from the couch, she says.