BRINGING YOUTH TO THE TABLE:

FILLING THE NUTRITION GAP WITHIN A COMMUNITY

What started as an idea in 2018 turned into farmers market serving the 78744 community, a zip code located in South Austin, Texas, said Roxanne Saldivar, program supervisor for the 78744 Community Youth Development (CYD) program.

The 78744 CYD program is a state funded program that aims to enhance the positive development of its youth, according to the organization’s website. 78744 CYD works directly with youth that live within the zip code they serve, known as their Youth Advisory Committee (YAC). Together, they addressed problems within their community that they wanted to resolve, including a lack of access to fruits and vegetables.

“The community we serve does not have any close grocery stores and if you don’t have a car it is impossible to walk 5 minutes to a store to get this,” said Saldivar. “The kids wanted to host a farmers market that would showcase this for the community and also tie in Mexican-American culture into the event, since the majority of the community of 78744 is Latin X.”

To get the needed produce for the farmers market, 78744 CYD works with two Austin-based nonprofits, the Sustainable Food Center and Urban Roots, as well as several local farmers, said Saldivar.

“Produce is given for free to families,” said Saldivar. “We cover food vouchers up to $10 and then if anyone wants to purchase more, they are able to use their [own] money or SNAP benefits.”

Youth members are included in all aspects of planning this event, said Saldivar. This includes establishing partnerships, working with the farmers and volunteering at the farmers market itself.

“Through planning and creating [the farmers market], youth learned many skills,” said Michi Heckler, the temporary public health youth program specialist for 78744 CYD. “Some of which were positive and detailed communication, planning, time management and responsibility.”

Heckler joined before the second farmers market, said Saldivar. Due to COVID-19, this event was adjusted to meet safety guidelines.

“Youth and [I] had to figure out how to still deliver a needed service to this community within the safety guidelines of the city and state,” said Heckler. “Everyone wore masks, it became a drive-thru format and some COVID-19 safety resources in the to-go bags were included.”

Programs like 78744 CYD teaches youth to be leaders and advocates for their community, said Saldivar.

“Talk to the community [and] the youth [to] see what is needed,” said Saldivar. “When you have an idea of what is needed and wanted, the passion comes from that.”

Local youth should be included when planning a community-based program, said Saldivar.

“They are the ones that will be the ones to grow up in the community and possibly raise their families one day,” said Saldivar. “They need to understand what is going on and be part of the positive movements forward.”

Saldivar recommends starting small when coming up with a new project or program involving youth.

“Give them chances to shine, focus on their strengths, let them figure things out and when they fail, allow them too and be there to guide their recovery from the failure.”

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