A Vegan Petting Zoo – Great Activity for Kids

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Recently I attended the Sonoma Heirloom Exhibition. My decision to go was based on two reasons:

1) Any visit to a farmer's market in Sonoma or Santa Rosa yields the most beautiful local-grown produce, consistently on every trip. This image was photographed by me from items I picked at a summer farmer's market in Sonoma:

That image was the first photo (and now a poster) I ever photographed in my strobe studio. I remember feeling very stressed and rushed because every minute wasted on adjusting my new strobes meant the produce would not look as beautiful as when I chose it from the tables in the market.

But even radishes from a Santa Rosa farmer are like no other I have seen:

I was so smitten with these beauties because the leaves were so fresh and the bug holes in the leaves made them feel so real. I also loved the elongated shape of the radishes. Their peppery flavor was so delicate in my salads.

These summer peaches, sold by a father and son, were so sweet and delicious. Look at their leaves! These photographs show the aura of fresh produce that is just hours old!

2) I saw a photo with all of these winter squash in the Sonoma Heirloom Festival exhibition flyer and knew I just had to shoot them.

That is actually my photo as I knelt at the base of this squash mountain and looked up to the sky. I am not sure how many squash were in this big pile but it was a lot!

The really crazy story of this trip is that I ran all over the exhibition and could not find any of these beautiful squash for sale! I am sure I walked over 5 miles between the car, the exhibition, and the farmer's market that was across the street (which yielded the trumpet squash and tomatoes below). I saw hydroponic equipment, bakeries, pet roosters with leashes, beautiful pet farm birds, heirloom seed companies, art vendors, many food booths, and book companies. But I could not find any squash for sale! I saw the squash everywhere. I even found this mountain of them. But none of them were for sale; they were just there for exhibition purposes!

But this was actually a good problem or this great activity idea and blog post might never be shared.

I saw the most incredible array of squash at a kids activity booth. The activity was a "vegan petting zoo" and the woman there had a wonderful assortment of about a hundred of these squash all arranged in groups on hay bales. I said, "excuse me, where did you buy these?" She said, "these squash are all over the place." I said, "I have walked all over the whole exhibition after getting up at 5AM and driving 1.5 hours (through Bay Area traffic!) to get here and I cannot find any to buy and I want them to take pictures of them." She said, "well I will give you some if you give our school a donation." I donated all the cash in my wallet and made her day and mine when I got a dozen of fine specimens (shot in my studio later that evening):

She was so happy to get the money for her school and I was so happy to get such a collection of beautiful squash for my studio. They are heavy when you have to walk a half mile and you have a camera around your neck!

I asked her how she was conducting her petting zoo activity. She explained that she and her staff line them all up on bales of straw and hay and to create a vegan petting zoo. The kids can arrange them, carry them around, pet them, and learn about them. They learn how they grow, the titles of the squash, the science of heirloom seeds, and what you can cook with the squash. I might add what nutrients are in them to that list!

Now isn't that a great idea! While I am not completely vegetarian, I love a plant-based diet. I also love any activity or lesson that will help a child learn about nutrition and how to eat better.

Maybe you will like this idea for your next health fair, class activity, or wellness event. It is even a great idea for a cooking demo for kids.

I also learned what "heirloom" or "open-pollinated" terminology means (besides just being beautiful to photograph). It means that the seeds are not hybrids or genetically modified and they are often handed down through generations of families and gardeners in farming. While modern breeding programs can develop hybrid varieties of produce that grow more prolifically and feed a large number of people more efficiently and economically, they often do not compare to the flavors and appearances of the more traditional varieties that are called heirloom. The local farmers and gardeners are more concerned with flavors and often to not have to ship their items across far distances because they sell locally.

Usually we see "heirloom" produce as tomatoes in farmers markets and stores and they are so ugly they are beautiful. The perfume and flavor of heirloom tomatoes is almost always extraordinary compared to the uniform gassed tomatoes that are hybrids. I am very attracted to the look of the heirloom produce as a photographer and chef. If you are lucky enough to have these choices near you, it is a good idea to try them. The appearance and flavors are spectacular and many times they are less expensive than store varieties. Sometimes they also cost more. You can read more about them here:

Here are more photos so you can see the yields of this day in Santa Rosa (sadly this area was affected by our Northern California wildfires and I was lucky enough to visit before the fires):

Best of all we are working on a new farm to table and farm to school series of products. 

Stay tuned. And keep me posted if you use a vegan petting zoo! Just click contact on this site and send me a message with your story! Enjoy! If you are not near Sonoma or a farmer's market I am sure you can find all kinds of winter squash at your local grocery store.

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