Search our Resource Database

Use the quick guide to search through our resource database. You can search by topic, setting, or keywords in order to find exactly what you are looking for. Choose a filtering mechanism above to get started.

View all resources

Use the Keyword search to filter through: descriptive keywords, title, or organization.

pick a date

pick a date

Connect with your state

Farm to school is taking place in all 50 states, D.C. and U.S. Territories! Select a location from the list below to learn more or contact a Core Partner. 

National Farm to School Network

News

Farm to ECE On The Menu At National Indian Head Start Director’s Association Conference

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 06, 2017

By Abby Harper, Farm to School Specialist, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

Farm to early care and education was on the menu at this year’s National Indian Head Start Director’s Association Annual Conference in Denver, Colo. in early June. The annual conference brings together leaders from all levels of management and leadership in American Indian and Alaskan Native (AIAN) Head Start programs, and this year over 40 attendees participated in a session to learn more about farm to early care and education (ECE). The session covered an overview of farm to ECE, presented strategies and resources to support implementing different components of farm to ECE, and allowed ample opportunity for attendees to discuss interest, challenges and opportunities in their programs.

The theme of this year’s conference, Preserving Indigenous Learning, opened up space to discuss how local foods can be a tool for celebrating cultural traditions of the populations served by AIAN Head Start programs. While some may think of local foods primarily related to fruits or vegetables, participants in this session highlighted local foods like salmon, bison and chili peppers as items of highest interest in incorporating into early childhood programs. During discussion, many attendees expressed interest in using local foods to teach children about food traditions and agricultural history of the populations they serve, and creating space for family engagement around gardening and food preparation. One attendee saw an opportunity in highlighting local, traditional foods as a tool for celebrating culture and instilling a sense of pride in their young children. Building off of that idea, another attendee noted the opportunity to use local foods as a way to teach children and families – many of whom have lost a connection to tribal foods – the nutritional value and preparation methods for traditional foods.

Attendees of the session expressed general interest in purchasing and utilizing local foods in early childhood meal programs, but noted several challenges specific to their communities and to bringing tribal foods and traditions into cafeterias, classrooms and gardens. In addition to challenges related to budget, geographic location presents a unique barrier for AIAN Head Start programs, as many reservations lack access to high quality agricultural land and locations to purchase reasonably priced local foods. Additionally, some foods that are of interest to tribal communities, such as wild game, foraged foods or bison raised on agricultural land, may not qualify for reimbursement under the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Colusa Indian Child Care Center has been incorporating local foods into its early childhood programs since 2005, as a response to parents and community members noting rising health issues due to poor diets in their communities. Director Kim Nall saw local foods as a tool for increasing access to healthier lifestyles and as part of their responsibility in caring for children. “The kids are with us 8 or 9 hours a day. This is something that we need to be invested in and it’s something that we need to take seriously.” Since then, Colusa Indian Child Care Center has taken big strides to make local foods a part of its normal operations. Program staff started by establishing several on-site gardens , which grow produce for meals and snacks. They also began purchasing a variety of foods from local farms, including developing a long-term relationship with a stone fruit grower and purchasing nuts, honey and rice from nearby tribal farmers. Early on, they encountered challenges meeting minimum orders for some area farmers, so they partnered with local schools to coordinate deliveries on the same day farmers were delivering to larger school districts. Since the beginning, they’ve involved parents in every aspect of their farm to ECE activities. Parents and families test taste new recipes, help with food preparation and attend open houses that feature local farmers and vendors.

At Colusa Indian Child Care Center, the efforts are paying off. Children have become accustomed to local, seasonal foods, and these healthy habits are now ingrained in how the children approach what they eat. The staff have also seen changes in parents, who are now more open to new menus and are taking a leading role in encouraging their children to eat healthy, local foods.  The on-site farm stand has also increased in popularity among families. The center credits a lot of its success with being active in the local food scene. By participating on local food policy councils and learning what school districts in the area are doing, Colusa Indian Child Care Center has become part of the local food conversation and gained access to important resources to support its programming. 

There are many resources to support early childhood programs serving AIAN populations. The National Farm to School Network has funded five farm to school programs in tribal communities that AIAN Head Start programs can learn from.  The USDA has provided guidance on utilizing traditional foods in child nutrition programs, bringing tribal foods and traditions into cafeterias, classrooms, and gardens, and gardens in tribal communities. Additionally, technical assistance providers looking to connect with AIAN programs can work with AIAN grantee organizations. These resources and the enthusiastic discussion at the National Indian Head Start Director’s Association’s June conference indicate a growing number of AIAN early childhood and head start programs that use local and traditional foods to improve nutrition and celebrate culture.

Photo credits: (Top) National Farm to School Network; (Bottom) Colusa Indian Child Care Center

Celebrate CACFP with Farm to Early Care and Education!

NFSN Staff Monday, March 13, 2017

By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

While we aim to celebrate great nutrition for kids all year round, this week, we have a special reason to cheer. March 12 – 18 is National CACFP Week, a week devoted to raising awareness of how the USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) works to combat hunger and bring healthy foods to the table for adults in day care and children in child care homes, centers, and in afterschool and summer feeding programs across the country. CACFP provides approximately 1.9 billion meals and snacks to over 3.3 million children every day. Studies show children who participate in CACFP programs have healthier eating patterns and are less likely to be overweight. CACFP may even contribute to reduced household food insecurity. There are so many reasons to celebrate this important program! 

Farm to early care and education (ECE) activities – including local procurement, gardening, and food-based education – offer valuable opportunities to support success in CACFP. In 2017, new CACFP meal patterns will go into effect that require programs to serve a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and lower sugar foods. Farm to ECE experiences, like taste tests, cooking activities and gardening, can encourage children to taste and accept new, diverse foods. Serving local and seasonal foods is even identified as a best practice in USDA’s “Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Pattern Revision: Best Practices.”   

The National Farm to School Network and ECE stakeholders will continue the celebration of CACFP when we convene for the National CACFP Conference in San Diego, Calif., April 18-20, 2017. Farm to ECE educational opportunities are highlighted throughout the conference schedule, ensuring even more CACFP sponsors and ECE stakeholders will take home resources, information and know-how to spread farm to ECE opportunities across the country. The National Farm to School Network will kick off the conference week by offering a preconference training session in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, Taking Root Tennessee, and YMCA Childcare Resource Service of San Diego. This four-hour session will demonstrate how farm to ECE initiatives not only integrate seamlessly with the learning style of young children, but are also an evidenced-based approach to meeting educational and nutrition standards (including CACFP meal patterns) and improving the quality of early care and education environments. Whether participants are seasoned experts or just ready to plant the first seeds, they will come away with concrete plans to “grow” health and wellness, experiential learning opportunities, and parent engagement through farm to ECE.  

The learning and fun continue with multiple break-out sessions devoted to the core elements of farm to ECE. The National Farm to School Network, USDA, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute and North County Community Services will introduce participants to the ways that farm to ECE initiatives can support success in meeting new CACFP meal pattern requirements while increasing children’s acceptance of the new foods found on their plates. In another session, USDA will show participants how to use the popular Grow It! Try It! Like It! nutrition education curriculum to build lifelong healthy habits for young eaters. USDA will also join the Texas Department of Agriculture and Michigan State University to provide attendees with concrete steps to begin or increase their use of local products in menus and educational programming. Finally, Our Daily Bread of Tennessee will dig into the garden experience and demonstrate how gardening can promote healthier food choices and introduce science, math, and environmental stewardship concepts, while improving social and interpersonal skills.  

Find more ways to celebrate CACFP during National CACFP Week and learn more about National CACFP Conference from the National CACFP Sponsors Association. Learn more about farm to early care and education from the National Farm to School Network’s Farm to Early Care and Education landing page.   

Promising Partnerships: Extension and Farm to ECE

NFSN Staff Wednesday, March 01, 2017
 The MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center offers up close experiences with goats and other animals as part of the Farm Sprouts Preschool Program. 

By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate


Cooperative Extension programs have been bringing quality research and education to rural and urban communities for over 100 years. With the goal of offering practical information to improve the lives of agricultural producers, consumers, families, and children, extension is a natural fit for partnership in farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) initiatives. Across the U.S., extension provides a vital link to resources and information and builds connections between producers and communities, expanding opportunities for local procurement, gardening, and food and agriculture education in schools and ECE settings. 

Extension supports farm to ECE efforts in a variety of ways with diverse models of success emerging in communities across the country. Some extension programs bring local foods, gardening, and food-based education directly to the ECE classroom. In Maricopa County, Ariz., University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has a family resource center housed in a school that serves Head Start families and children with special needs. The resource center features 15 raised garden beds as part of an outdoor learning center where extension staff engage children, parents, and teachers in “Play and Learn” workshops and professional development opportunities. University of Maryland Extension brings gardening along with food, nutrition, and wellness education to children and teachers at Head Start locations in Princess Anne, Md. Children plant seeds, learn about fruits and vegetables, and sing and dance to songs about healthy food through culturally adapted curriculum. Parents join in the fun, too, with family days offering healthy snacks and family gardening time. 

Other extension models bring children to the farm for immersive experiences with food and agriculture. In Pima County, Ariz., at the Tucson Village Farm, young children and their parents dig into the Lil’ Sprouts Program to learn about a wide variety of food and agriculture topics from seeds to worms to farmers. As children are immersed in hands on, scientific discovery, parents gain understanding of the important skills children develop by working in the garden, from developing self-regulation as they wait for a radish to emerge from the soil to the math skills necessarily to evenly divide seeds for sprouting. At MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center, the Farm Sprouts Preschool Program focuses on developing scientific thinking and understanding through discovery, experimentation, and sensory experiences. Young children explore the farm and contribute to the farm community by caring for the farm animals, tending and harvesting in the gardens, and engaging in meaningful projects. The program encompasses cross-institute components, within MSU Extension, related to child development, health and nutrition, natural resources, agriculture and food systems, environmental science, and global and cultural education. 

Young students visit Down’s Produce as part of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative. 

In other programs, extension agents act as liaisons and connections to local producers and support the integration of local foods into meals and snacks in ECE settings. The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative aims to make the region a place where all people have access to healthy, local foods. One component of their multi-faceted approach is to integrate healthy, local food options into early care and education settings. One of the vital partners of the Initiative is Iowa State University Extension and Outreach which, through the development of the Iowa Food Hub, plays a primary role in production, access, and procurement of local food. In Wake County, N.C., the Wake County Farm to Child Care program has worked closely with county extension since the development of the project. In addition to helping to write the project plan, a local extension partner supports on-going connections with farmers and helped support the projects “farmer liaison” in understanding how farmers and ECE programs can work together. Through this partnership, Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) and cooperative extension staff also developed a series of publications titled "Local Foods: Childcare Center Production Gardens."

The National Institute for Food and Agriculture, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network, will be offering a webinar to share more about these and other extension and farm to ECE partnerships and project. Register here and join the webinar on March 14, at 2 PM ET. To learn more about how you can work with extension, find your local Cooperative Extension and check out tools and resources from extension at https://extension.org.    

Big wins for little eaters in 2016

NFSN Staff Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 has been a big year for little eaters! The farm to early care and education movement is on the rise, and with it, many new opportunities to bring fresh, healthy food and high-quality educational opportunities to young children across the country. 

At the National Farm to School Network, we’ve had an exciting year of developing new resources, building partnerships, and scaling up efforts to strengthen the farm to ECE movement and reach more children in these vital early years. Here’s a snapshot of what we’ve accomplished in 2016:   

SURVEY RESULTS: Launched results of our 2015 National Survey of Early Care and Education Providers with an infographic, fact sheet and report. We found that more than 50 percent of respondents were already incorporating farm to ECE activities - like gardening, including local foods in meals and snacks, and food and nutrition education - into their early care and education settings and another 28 percent plan to start in the future.

TRAINING OPPORTUNITIES: Provided training for farm to ECE practitioners at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, which included workshop sessions on farm to early care and education procurement, curriculum and network building. 

WEBINARS: Our Farm to ECE Webinar series highlighted opportunities and best practices to further farm to ECE with in-depth looks at State Level Partnership Opportunities, Cultural Relevancy in Farm to ECE, and Local Procurement in ECE Settings

NEW RESOURCES: Updated our collection of farm to ECE factsheets – including Getting Started with Farm to Early Care and Education, Local Procurement for Child Care Centers, Local Purchasing for Family Child Care Providers – and added new ECE resources created by partners to our Resource Library. 

CASE STUDIES: Partnered with pfc Social Impact Advisors and the BUILD Initiative to develop a series of six case studies that highlight best practices from service providers using farm ECE as an approach to support health, wellness, high-quality education, and community change. 

STORYTELLING: On our blog, we’ve shared inspiring stories of the many ways providers use farm to ECE activities to introduce young children to healthy habits and strengthen local communities. For example, how a garden has brought together preschoolers and Veterans in California, how fresh beets and a blender inspired a 4-year old try new foods, and they ways CACFP providers are finding success with farm to ECE. 

With over 12 million children spending an average of 33 hours per week in early care and education settings, farm to ECE has the potential to set up a significant number of young children for success with healthy habits and high quality learning environments. We need your help to grow this movement, and insure that all children and families have access to a bright and healthy future. 

Give Now


Join us in strengthening these efforts to give our littlest eaters a healthy start. A donation in any amount is an investment in our children's future.  

We are grateful for your generous support of the farm to ECE movement, and uplifted by your commitments to grow a healthier next generation. Thank you for being our partners in this work! 

CACFP Take Action Challenge Celebrates Farm to Early Care and Education Champions

NFSN Staff Thursday, December 08, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

For the past year, early care and education providers across the country have been stepping up to build a healthier future for children by participating in the CACFP Take Action Challenge. The CACFP Take Action Challenge was designed to boost awareness about the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and its vital role in improving children’s health, enhancing the quality of child care, and addressing serious national issues like food insecurity and childhood obesity. The challenge also celebrates the incredible work of CACFP sponsors and providers as they completed health oriented activities from a list of challenges and submitted stories and pictures showing their success. Many of these “Actioneers” found success in farm to early care and education initiatives, and emerged as leaders in CACFP and in farm to ECE!

Michelle France-Slimak of Apple Valley Family Child Care in Plantsville, Conn., achieved Gold level recognition in the Challenge through a wide variety of food-based learning activities. This year, the raised beds and pots at Apple Valley were full of peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and blueberry plants. The children find many ways to explore the foods they grow and the foods Michelle purchases from farmers markets. The vast array of sizes, shapes, and colors of produce make for fun, interactive lessons, and Michelle offers fruits and vegetables prepared in a variety of ways so children can compare tastes and flavors. With all of these learning opportunities, including field trips to local farms and orchards, Michelle has seen big changes in the food choices her children are making – choices that will set them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. 

At TenderCare, a family child care home in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, children not only follow local foods from seed to plate, but also learn how food can bring the community together. Gladys Movall, owner and provider at TenderCare, also happens to be a Master Gardener, and sees first hand the many lessons children learn in the garden, from appreciating the environment, to listening skills, teamwork, and time management. Gladys notes how enthusiastic the children are to try the foods that come out of the garden and to bring the foods home to their families. The children also learn about the importance of healthy food in the community by visiting farmers markets to talk to producers and by sharing the bounty of their garden with the local food bank. At TenderCare, children see the potential for a small seed to grow into big impacts in the community. 

At the 9 locations of the North Bay Children’s Center (NBCC) in central Calif., farm to ECE initiatives are integrated in a wide variety of activities through The Garden of Eatin’ program. Led by Garden and Nutrition Educators Lisa Bianchi and Lacey Packard, children plant and harvest in the gardens, cook with fresh garden produce, and participate in Harvest of the Month activities. NBCC carries the message of healthy, local eating into the community by developing new community gardens and providing parent educations about the importance of the farm to school movement. NBCC fosters a "wellness policy" company wide that includes staff development education on the importance of embracing healthy living through farm fresh foods. As staff learn about and become enthusiastic for gardening and healthy eating, children see this modeling and farm to ECE initiatives becomes an even more natural way of life for children and families, too. 

This was the first year to delve into farm to ECE activities for Coastal Community Head Start in N.C. Based on the positive feedback from teachers, families, and children, the organization is looking towards increasing their local purchases and integrating even more food-based activities into the program. Nutrition Manager Catherine Schlaefer, was thrilled to be able to purchase farm fresh treats from a producer just down the road for meals and snacks. Children and teachers alike noticed the difference in the flavor of these freshly picked strawberries, green peas, melons, cucumbers and fresh corn. Everyone is now looking forward to sweet potato season and Catherine is planning her menus to incorporate even more local foods next year. Catherine’s favorite thing about the Challenge was the way that it made meeting CACFP regulations fun and exciting and brought a “lighter side” to CACFP.  

While the CACFP Take Action Challenge has come to an end, these providers and the children, families, and community they serve will continue to reap the many benefits of farm to ECE. Read more stories of success on the CACFP Take Action Challenge website and find ways you can take action with farm to early care and education on the National Farm to School Network Farm to Early Care and Education webpage

Photo captions: Children at one of the Costal Community Head Starts enjoy exploring corn before cooking and tasting it (top); A child inspects microgreens at a North Bay Children’s Center site (bottom).

Good Food, Great Kids

NFSN Staff Thursday, November 10, 2016
What We Can Learn from Six Organizations Advancing a Farm to Early Care and Education Approach

 Photo credit: Mark Luinenburg, courtesy of pfc Social Impact Advisors
By Gayle Peterson, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Co-founder & Senior Managing Director, and Hilda Vega, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Vice President of Programs

In a time of change, many of us reflect on our values and passions and consider the kind of community we want our children to live in. We consider various policy options and how they have (or have not) worked to improve the lives of children and families across the country. Those of us involved in the fields of healthy food access or education will be looking for supportive policies in these areas, hoping that policy makers will continue projects like Let’s Move! or increased funding for Head Start programs. We’ll also hope that current battles, like those over Child Nutrition Reauthorization, will be resolved with the best possible outcome for children’s access to healthy food. A supportive policy environment, along with ingenuity and perseverance from the early care and education community are vital components to ensuring that all of our nation’s young children have access to healthy, nutritional foods and high quality learning opportunities.

With this need in mind, pfc Social Impact Advisors, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network and the BUILD Initiative, has developed a new set of case studies that highlight best practices from service providers using farm to ECE as an approach to support health, wellness, high-quality education, and community change. Part of the Good Food, Great Kids project, these case studies explore how multiple cities and regions embarked on the journey of bringing farm to ECE to vulnerable children in Head Start programs. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned: 

  • In Minneapolis/St. Paul, we learned about Hmong farmers working with Head Start centers and other local food service providers to enliven their menus with local food. 
  • In Washington, D.C., we met with staff and children of CentroNia, a multicultural and bilingual community and education center that incorporates school gardening, a healthy food curriculum, local procurement, and on-site scratch cooking to help students connect with their food. 
  • The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) in Brooklyn is working to break down myths about farm to ECE by sharing their success in working with a local food hub and other partners to bring fresh food to early care programs and the greater community of Central Brooklyn. 
  • The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, which works across six counties in Iowa, links together diverse community members such as local colleges, human service provides, and food service provider partners works to help more children under the age of five (and their families) learn about and have affordable access to healthy food and knowledge about it. 
  • In Kansas City, Mo, two concerned community members—one a chef and the other a farmer and promoter of better access to affordable, healthy food-- worked to create a program  that offers chef-driven meals in Head Start and other educational programs, healthy food education and access for children and families, and other experiential resources for children across the city. 
  • In Philadelphia, the Norris Square Community Alliance is embarking on a strategic planning process with community members to formally incorporate a farm to ECE program targeting 700 children and striving to benefit all families and neighbors who are part of the Norris Square community. 

You can dig deeper into each of the case studies here



Accompanying these new case studies is the Good Food, Great Kids policy research report, which highlights some of the most pressing challenges faced by farm to ECE programs, such as limited funding at the national and state levels to support these activities. It also highlights needs to have the space and resources to think more intentionally about equity, family engagement, the impact of policy realities on care providers, the need for bridge-building across sectors, and the need for more research about the impact of farm to ECE on child outcomes. 

There is no one-size fits all approach to farm to ECE. Yet, the six sites featured in these new resources found that bringing together complex issues like good food and early childhood education present a new way forward to ensure a good start and stronger future for children, especially those in vulnerable neighborhoods. Their experiences offer important guidance for others hoping to make nutritious food and high-quality early childcare and education a reality in their communities. By sharing and learning from stories like these, we can create momentum, spur innovation, and generate change that will help ensure that access to healthy, nutritional food is a right, not a privilege, for all young children. 

Growing Together: Garden Brings Together Veterans and Children

NFSN Staff Monday, October 24, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, National Farm to School Network


Photos courtesy of Veterans Organic Garden
The Peach Tree Head Start Garden sure didn’t seem like much to look at when veteran John Johns first laid eyes on it. The abandoned piece of land, conveniently situated between the Ukiah Veterans Administration Clinic and Peach Tree Head Start in Ukiah, Calif., was covered in years of overgrowth and unsafe for anyone, let alone children to wander through. With the commitment and diligence of Garden Manager Johns and other enthusiastic veteran gardeners of Veterans Organic Garden, and the coordination and support of the Gardens Project of North Coast Opportunities, in a relatively short time, this land had transformed into a sanctuary of healing for local veterans and an exciting place of learning and growing for the children of Peach Tree Head Start. 

The first step in the project was making the garden area safe enough for children to come into. Once this was accomplished, the planting could begin. Thanks to community donations and volunteer time, the garden soon started to fill with squash, tomato, cucumber, and pumpkin seedlings. The Head Start students were involved even from the very first stages of planting. The children started seedlings in the classrooms to plant in the garden and worked alongside veterans to plant pea seeds in the wooden barrels filled with donated soil and compost. 

Planting together was just the start of many valuable experiences in the garden, for both the children and the veterans. Throughout the growing and harvest season, the children made regular trips to the garden to see how their plants were growing and to nibble from the garden’s bounty. Johns says the peas planted in the beginning of the season were a popular treat and the children ate them up like candy.  He was also surprised to see how readily they gobbled up the spicy radishes. 

Head Start families are gaining hands on experience, too. Garden work days bring together veterans, teachers, parents, and children of all ages to pull weeds, tend plants, and take home bags of fresh produce. The impact of the garden continues into the Head Start kitchen and into the homes of the VA clinic patients. An average of 125 pounds a week of fresh produce from the garden has been served to students in meals and snacks at the Head Start and given away at the VA clinic.  

Johns sees significant benefits first hand for both veterans and children. The garden offers a place for mental and physical healing for veterans and empowers them with the opportunity to tend and manage their own plots. For Johns, the best part of the whole project is when the kids come up, hug him around the knees and thank him for gardening with them. Johns wants to engage even more veterans in this project so they can have that experience of admiration and appreciation. 

The relationships developed in the garden are meaningful and impactful for the children, too. Johns sees the children looking up to the growers and seeing them as role models, which increases their appreciation for farmers and food in general. The children get to engage in the growing experience with all their senses, from the time that they are very small, allowing them to develop a deep understanding of how food grows and where it comes from. Johns also hopes that by getting children in the garden early, they will grow up excited about growing their own food and make gardening a life long habit. 

The success of the garden is not going unnoticed in the community. After a recent newspaper article highlighted the project, several organizations reached out to offer donations, lands on which to start more community gardens, and partnership opportunities. Johns sees this positive response as testament to the importance and impact that a garden like this can have in the community. By bringing together veterans and the youngest gardeners in town, the garden is changing the community from the ground up.

Beet Hummus Bravery

NFSN Staff Tuesday, October 04, 2016
By Zack Silver, FoodCorps Service Member serving at the United Way of Passaic County in Paterson, New Jersey


Photo Credit: FoodCorps
Judah hated food. Well, that isn’t entirely true - he did eat some things. Cheerios in the morning if they didn’t touch any milk and he didn’t have to see nearby bowls of fruit. Plain pasta for lunch with no protein, veggies, or sauce. Snacks, but only crackers. On the days that the Center for Family Resources (CFFR) in Wayne, N.J., offered other meal options like yogurt or stir fry, Judah didn’t complain or bawl like some of his 4-year old classmates, or ask for alternatives. He simply sat in silence and watched his classmates eat. If I tried to put banana on his plate or serve steamed broccoli, that’s when the waterworks would begin.

However, as I started showing up often to CFFR to teach farm to school classes, presenting students with locally grown apples or inviting them to lay fresh compost on our garden’s raised beds, Judah became more trusting of me. When he watched his classmates cook new fruits and vegetables, from school-grown kale to exotic pomegranate and kiwi, he became reluctantly intrigued by these foods. A few months into the year, he progressed to allowing new food on his plate although he assured me he wouldn’t taste it, but would instead prod it with his fork and fingers when I asked him to, so he could feel the mushiness of a raspberry or the hardness of a rainbow chard stalk. These gestures were the first of many small steps Judah would take on his journey towards nutritional enlightenment.

Unfortunately for Judah, the final unraveling of his stubbornness was my blender. I brought it to class to make smoothies, salsa, and dip and its arrival was heralded with cheers from my preschoolers that would make a football stadium shake - it became the harbinger of fun and symbol for tasty produce. During classes, students would go in a circle to measure and add ingredients to blend, then line up for the coveted job of pressing the button and feeling the vibration under their fingers while classmates screamed in joy. Judah loved pressing the blender button. He reveled in his classmates’ yelps and stood triumphant as he made healthy treats.

Although Judah tried to resist, it was impossible to harvest a vegetable from his own garden, clean it tenderly, blend it with other ingredients, and still not want to taste it. And finally, one day in late spring, Judah succumbed. Our homemade beet hummus lay resplendent on his plate made from chickpeas, olive oil, tahini, lemon juice, and beets that he had pulled from the soil minutes before and chopped with a plastic knife. Judah gingerly dipped a pita chip into the magenta mass and brought it up to his lips where he stuck out his tongue and dabbed it with what was microscopically the smallest amount of food that could be considered “tasting.” He took another chip and a larger dab. I felt like I was at the top of a roller coaster, climbing inch by inch - I didn’t know when it was going to drop.

Five minutes later, I was spooning second helpings of beet hummus onto Judah’ plate, as he told me that “it tastes like raw candy!” To a preschooler that might be a standard compliment; to me, it was the highest praise I’ve ever received. The techniques that charmed Judah’s palate are helpful for kids at all levels of fruit and vegetable familiarity - they applaud courage, encourage taking just the smallest of steps, and help children find a new “yum” they never thought they could have.


FoodCorps is a national service organization that recruits, trains, and places AmeriCorps members to serve in high-need schools to connect kids to healthy food in school. Serving alongside educators and community leaders in 18 states, corps members focus on delivering hands-on lessons in gardening, cooking, and tasting healthy food; improving school meals; and encouraging a schoolwide culture of health.
  1 2 3   Next