Science at your local farmer’s market!

Did you ever think about sharing your science at your local farmer’s market? This is a special venue because it is outdoors; people attending the farmer’s market are not necessarily the same ones that seek out science at the zoo, the museum, or the university, so you might surprise someone. Also, you are probably the only science booth there.

I got the idea that this would be a fun thing to do from the science booth at the Urbana Illinois farmer’s market. They have one there every week, with different groups participating. I thought I could do that and chose a farmer’s market nearby, in Ferguson Missouri, about ten minutes up the road from us.

They were most welcoming, particularly the market organizer, Marveena Miller. They gave us a tent, a table, and chairs. We decided to bring something to the market the first Saturday of every month. Each time there would be a theme, a game of some sort, and some scientific stuff, flowers, microscopes, Petri plates, things to look at.

The first visit was July 7th, a gorgeous summer day. We brought the challenge of skin bacteria. Where on your skin are the most bacteria? Are there more on men or women, on old people or young? We made sure to have replicates for  each category, following good scientific practice. We had plates to look at, but we also had laminated photographs of plates that people could categorize as to body part, or type of person, then turn over to see if they were right.

After all, we knew that most people will spend a maximum of 5 minutes at our booth. It worked really well. People were surprised at how few bacteria are inside our mouths, or on our hands. Men and women did not differ. Some stayed to look at real plates through the microscope. Hundreds of people came.

After July, we did three more markets, covering pollination and other topics. One time was pretty much rained out. That activity we can repeat next summer. But overall, we plan to have three years worth of topics before we repeat. We also hope others in St. Louis come to present scientific activities on the other Saturdays of the month. One is plenty for us!

So consider whether your local farmer’s market could use some freshly grown science! It is easy, fun, and so rewarding for all.

About Joan E. Strassmann

Evolutionary biologist, studies social behavior in insects & microbes, interested in education, travel, birds, tropics, nature, food; biology professor at Washington University in St. Louis
This entry was posted in Broader Impacts, Outreach, Public Communication and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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