A small child weaves through the crowded walkway between booths lining the West Linn Summer Market along Willamette Falls Drive. He ducks and dodges around adults stopping to chat with neighbors or sample products offered by the variety of vendors sharing their wares on this mildly warm Wednesday evening. As he approaches his destination, he joins the queue of children forming in front of Summer Market Manager Lacey Sprague, and when he reaches the front of the line, Sprague places two $1 tokens in his hot little hands.
He turns and sprints to the booth directly behind Sprague's with a sign advertising blueberries.
"Schott's Berry Farm, $2 - Cup" the sign reads.
He hands over his two tokens and in return receives a heaping cup of fresh-picked blueberries from the farm near Woodburn.
Instant satisfaction wipes across the boy's face as he digs into his spoils and paints his face purple.
This moment of satisfaction is a result of the Power of Produce club, a program designed to empower kids to make good decisions around food and teach them about local food and farm-to-table movements that are a growing part of urban and rural life in the Pacific Northwest. Funded by a $2,500 grant from the Clackamas Soil and Water Conservation District, the Power of Produce club offers $2 per week for local kids to spend on fresh produce at their leisure.
The program — currently in its first year in West Linn— is a bigger success than Sprague could have imagined when she decided to implement it after seeing the draw it created at the Oregon City Farmer's Market. Pre-registration on Facebook and Nextdoor saw dozens of interested families sign up to participate. Now, in mid-July, more than 300 local kids are registered and around 115 of them show up each week to gather their tokens and purchase fresh produce from one of the three farms the market has enticed to participate.
Schott's Berry Farm is one of those farms, and their booth boasts an impressive quantity of fresh hand-picked blueberries.
Emily Christensen, daughter of owners Elaine and Rolen Schott, operates the booth with her husband Josh each Wednesday. The couple say they love seeing the reactions of the kids who frequent their booth week after week as they enjoy their product.
"Seeing the kids shop is awesome. It's important to empower kids to make healthy decisions," Chistensen says. "For me, this has been a really amazing aspect of this market because I have a background in fitness and nutrition."
The Schott family has grown blueberries for more than 30 years at their Woodburn farm, but the plants producing their berries are closer to 60 years old, according to Christensen. They can be found at several farmer's markets throughout the Willamette Valley, but they keep returning to West Linn for the atmosphere.
"The vibe is just amazing," she says.
Just a few tents away sits Albeke Farms of Oregon City. Today, Barbie Payzant, niece of owners Doug and Becky Albeke, tends the booth offering mixed berries, peaches, apples, corn, tomatoes and more.
While business is a little slower at West Linn's Summer Market compared to other markets Albeke Farms participate in, it allows Payzant to stop and have a conversation with market-goers about the farm or their products.
She said it's particularly encouraging to see programs like the Power of Produce at markets like West Linn because it means continued business with generations to come.
"It's great to get kids learning about nutrition through eating fresh berries, fruit and vegetables," Payzant says. "It's a good to instill that in them at a young age."
For Sprague, the success of the Power of Produce club brings with it a slight sense of vindication. Last year the market transitioned from a farmer's market to a "summer market" after having difficulty courting farms to attend. This year, between Albeke, Schott's and Parsons Farms of Canby, the market's agricultural side continues to thrive in conjunction with the Power of Produce club.
"It's all about eating local, buying local and empowering kids to make their own decisions. They take ownership of it and want to come back to the market each week," Spague says. "The most satisfying part for me is seeing the excitement in these kids, and to prove to the community that we can make it a farmer's market. Without farmers, this program can't run, and now with all these farmers here we have options to choose from."