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Hundreds turn out for Las Vegas student-run farmers market

Green Our Planet, the local nonprofit that created the behemoth of a farmers market at the Clark County Government Amphitheater Wednesday morning, had erected a photo-op spot at the entrance, but none of the 600 students there seemed interested in using it. They were too busy showing and selling the literal fruits of their labors.

The Giant Student Farmers Market, said to be the largest of its kind in the country, involved students selling the fruits and vegetables — and sometimes more — they grow at more than 50 local schools. Green Our Planet organized the first student-run farmers market in Las Vegas in 2013.

As a couple of shoppers passed the table manned by students from Jim Bridger Middle School, which is near Civic Center Drive and East Carey Avenue in North Las Vegas, they stopped to ask about two pieces of produce.

“This is a summer squash,” said 12-year-old seventh-grader Denise Trotter. “This is an Armenian cucumber.”

“It’s technically a melon,” fellow 12-year-old seventh-grader Errica Moore piped up in regard to the latter.

Denise said she jumped at the chance to join the school’s growing concern.

“I thought gardening would be a really good place for me to be,” she said. “I’ve always been interested in plants, I just didn’t know how to grow them. Now I know how to grow plants I had never even heard of.”

The students were assisted by hundreds of volunteers, including more than 130 representing the local banking industry, who helped with the financial aspects. They included, at the Bridger booth, Wells Fargo personal banker Juan Saldana.

“This sounded pretty awesome,” he said of the volunteer opportunity. “And when they told me kids were involved …”

Even better was the fact that Saldana, 30, had attended Bridger as a kid. And he allowed that things had changed just a smidge in the intervening years.

“They have so many better programs now,” he said. “It’s amazing.”

Saldana said in addition to learning how food grows and gaining business savvy — Green Our Planet and local banks also teach them how to write a business plan and draw up a budget — they gain communication skills by interacting with shoppers and others at the market.

Kevin Garong, a 12-year-old seventh-grader at Victoria Fertitta Middle School, which is near Hacienda Avenue and Grand Canyon Drive, stood in front of the school’s table to try to snag passers-by and interest them in their wares: eggplant, butternut squash, purple sweet potatoes, basil, rosemary, chives and apples. And grapevine wreaths they had made.

“Oh, the apples are gone!” he said with a grin of satisfaction.

Deanna Knight, who’s in her fourth year as gardening teacher at Victoria Fertitta, said the school has 24 raised beds, plus a vineyard (hence the wreaths), orchard, cactus garden and rose garden. She said 110 students are involved with the program, as well as 10 special-needs students who have their own beds. And she said the enterprise touches even more because some teachers incorporate it into their curricula.

Besides the spring and fall markets at the county government center, the schools hold their own markets; Green Our Planet said there were more than 250 last year, at more than 100 Clark County schools.

“It’s an amazing job,” said Knight, a former English teacher. “I get to be outside with students, planting, growing, teaching them how food grows and how to eat right.”

Among Wednesday’s shoppers was Clark County Commissioner Marilyn Kirkpatrick, who had purchased eggplant, pomegranates and squash.

“Clark County is a proud sponsor with Green Our Planet and cooperative extension,” she said. Cited as a partner with Green Our Planet, Kirkpatrick has helped build some of the gardens.

“It’s phenomenal, if you’ve ever been out and watched the kids,” she said. “I’m a big supporter. It really does bring the community together.”

Kristina Allen and her father, Dave Allen, and two of Kristina’s grandchildren were taking in the sights.

“We are whole foods/plant based,” Kristina Allen said. “We thought this would be a good way to get some veggies and fruits and donate to schools at the same time.”

Shopper Ashley Nichols said her 8- and 10-year-old children participate in the program.

“They’re learning a lot,” she said. “It’s a good thing to teach them about where their food comes from.”

And so much more. Back at the Bridger booth, Denise and Errica and their fellow students were offering, besides cucumbers, summer squash, mint tea and bell peppers, $3 jars of sugar scrub, which Denise said contained sugar, coconut oil and essential oils such as lavender and lemon, and was devised to use up some ingredients from other projects.

“You rub it on your skin and it exfoliates it and makes it so soft,” she said.

And Errica said the jars of scrub had another value.

“They catch people’s eye,” she said, “and they end up buying other stuff.”

Contact Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474. Follow @HKRinella on Twitter.

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