Thursday, Oct. 24, 2019 | 2 a.m.
When Vassiliadis Elementary School students set up their display of student-made trinkets and homegrown produce at Wednesday’s student farmers market, sales were initially slow.
“People would look, they’d say, ‘Oh, that looks so amazing,’ and then they’d say, ‘But we’re going to go look at the other stands,’ and not buy anything,’” fifth-grader Reid Nelson said.
Nelson, who helped manage the money at his school’s table, recalled with excitement how customers’ attitudes changed as the market at the Clark County Government Center went on. Soon, people were stopping to buy the seasonal crafts and edible offerings made and grown by him and his peers.
Throughout the day and leading up to it, Nelson learned about selling and marketing. That’s one of many goals of the school garden program run by the local nonprofit Green Our Planet, in which Clark County School District students grow, harvest, sample and sell their own fruits, vegetables and herbs.
The produce is grown in greenhouses and gardens at schools across the Las Vegas area, explained Samantha West, fundraising and marketing coordinator of Green Our Planet. Held biannually in Las Vegas, the farmers market is an opportunity for students, most of whom are in fifth grade, to show the community what they’ve grown and learned.
“It’s a really cool, whole growing-cycle thing, where the students get a realistic view of what a garden can do for a community,” West said.
This fall, more than 600 students from more than 50 schools participated in the market, making it the largest student-run farmers market in the country, West said. Many schools, like Vassiliadis, also took the opportunity to sell homemade crafts, such as miniature games and Christmas ornaments.
In addition to learning entrepreneurial skills through the farmers market, the program teaches students about gardening and cultivation, plant identification, budgeting, cooking and more, said Vassiliadis school garden adviser Megan Pristash. Along the way, they have a lot of fun, too.
“These kids just eat it up,” Pristash said.
At some schools, especially Title I schools with large populations of high-needs students, students get the opportunity to take home some of the produce they grow as well. Many hold weekly farmers markets on school grounds to practice and gain confidence ahead of the big, districtwide market, West said.
“For the farmers market in particular, we want them to feel empowered,” she said. “It’s a lot of their first jobs where they get to experience what it’s like to become an entrepreneur.”
Students seemed to embrace that title Wednesday, with many wearing buttons that said “farmpreneur” and eagerly promoting their produce.
“They are really happy to see people come buy their things. Seeing that kind of thing, that (they) can be successful at doing something at this young age is really amazing,” said David Keohan, eighth-grade science teacher at K.O. Knudson Middle School.
To make the program possible, Green Our Planet works with local farmers, chefs and bankers who come into the schools to guide students, West said. The farmers show them growing techniques, the chefs teach them how to incorporate produce into easy recipes, and the financial experts guide them through the market process. Students also learn about nutrition, the importance of sustainability and that “everyone can be a scientist,” West said.
“With the program as a whole, we really want to improve nutrition and make sure students know about what they have the opportunity to grow in Las Vegas and incorporate it into their diet and their family’s diet,” she said.
After the farmers market, students decide together how to invest the money they earned back into their school gardens, West said. That and many other skills the students learn, like teamwork, will benefit them for years to come, Keohan said.
“They’ve just had fun working together as a team and learning how to cooperate, collaborate and get things done,” he said.