Photo courtesy of Little Ones Learning Center
- ECE sites can link families to the source of local food (farmer’s market, local farms, CSA or food boxes, etc) contributing to sustainable local food systems and increasing access to local food sources.
- Purchasing local food supports local producers and invests dollars back into the local economy and the local food system.
- Incorporating local foods in meals can increase nutritional value, quality, and appeal of meals, helping ensure children get the nutrition they need to stay healthy and be ready to learn.
- Utilize the USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) - CACFP provides reimbursement for meals and snacks served in ECE settings and is an important way to further food budgets. USDA not only allows, but encourages the use of local foods in CACFP meals and snacks. Connect with your state agency contact to get more information about CACFP in your state. For more tips on using CACFP for local purchasing, take a look at USDA’s Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs Guide or Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems’ Local Food for Little Eaters Toolbox.
- Seek out Seasonal - In many parts of the country, late summer and early fall signal peak abundance of locally grown foods. When produce is abundant, it is also often less expensive. Learn about seasonal availability in your region with this Seasonal Food Guide. Many states have also developed their own guides, like this one from Louisiana State University which shows the vegetable subgroups recommended by CACFP.
- Count on Community - During the COVID-19 crisis, communities have come together to ensure families have enough to eat, sometimes through programs that purchase food from local producers to distribute in the community. Community development organizations, local community foundations, and community food access organizations (like food banks and pantries), may be able to offer local foods as a donation or at a reduced price to ECE sites and to families they serve. Find your local food bank through Feeding America and learn more about the USDA’s Farmers to Families Food Box Program here. Donated foods are allowable in CACFP with appropriate documentation. Contact your state administering agency for more information.
- Order Online - As producers shift to online marketplaces there is increased opportunity for connection and purchasing that can accommodate the smaller quantities needed in ECE settings. Increased options in online purchasing can allow providers to find the producer or vendor with the preferred product, quantity, price, and pick-up/delivery options. Browse the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s Local Foods Directory to find producers, farmers markets, and food hubs in your area.
- Get Growing - On-site edible gardens not only provide valuable hands-on experiential learning, but can be an access point for locally grown produce. Fruits, vegetables, and herbs grown in the ECE garden can be used in meals and snacks, or shared with families to take home.
More Resources for Farm to ECE and COVID-19:
- The Significance of Farm to Early Care and Education in the Context of COVID-19
- National Farm to School Network Farm to School/ECE and COVID-19 Resource Hub
Title: Executive Director
Organization: Little Ones Learning Center
Location: Forest Park, GA
First-year on the National Farm to School Network Advisory Board
Wande Okunoren-Meadows and her dedicated team at Little Ones Learning Center joined Sadé Collins, NFSN Programs Fellow, to discuss the COVID-19 emergency in early care and education (ECE) centers. Wande and partners share how Little Ones Learning Center is using innovation in farm to ECE and the importance of building resilient and equitable community food systems during this time.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Based in Silk Hope, North Carolina, Sonflower Seeds Christian Preschool and Learning Center (Sonflower Seeds) has cared for children from 6 weeks old to age 12 for the past 15 years. Silk Hope is a small rural community near the Triangle of NC and beyond their play area lies 500 acres of pasture. Sonflower Seeds has been a leader in their county for many years for their support of local food and farms.
Though the number of children at the Center has decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonflower continues to serve many children of farmers, paramedics, police, and other essential workers. We spoke with Heidi Lineberry, Sonflower Seeds’ Director, to learn how sourcing local food has allowed them to continue serving nutritious meals to the children throughout the pandemic while supporting farmers nearby.
The NC Farm to ECE Initiative, facilitated by the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS) and funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, works with early childhood facilities and their communities to purchase local food and provide children with experiential learning around local food. The Farm to ECE Collaborative organizes community teams throughout North Carolina to connect food and early childhood systems.
Sonflower Seeds has been part of the Collaborative for a few years now. In 2019, with support from NC Farm to ECE, Sonflower Seeds formalized their commitment to local food by implementing a center policy that they serve fresh produce five days a week.
Sonflower Seeds’ dedication to sourcing locally began about eight years ago, when Heidi realized that she could have milk and other dairy products delivered from a local dairy, Homeland Creamery, rather than using staff time and gas for hauling 20+ gallons of milk from the grocery store every week. They also source most of their produce locally from Red Roots Farm, Okfuskee Farm, and Kildee Farm, eggs from Edell’s Eggs, apples and berries from Millstone Creek Orchards, and ground beef from Smithview Farm. Several of these farmers have children or grandchildren who attend Sonflower Seeds. Heidi connected with other farmers through word of mouth or recommendations from other farmers.
Sourcing food from local farmers as well as having a garden on site, has benefited Sonflower Seeds in many ways, including:
Product availability even during emergencies: Sonflower Seeds’ existing connections with local farmers has allowed them to serve nutritious, local foods without disruption even when other centers in their area have struggled to find milk and other products during the pandemic. They were already well accustomed to ordering and delivering procedures and local suppliers prioritized Sonflower Seeds as loyal customers.
Child nutrition, experiential learning, and family engagement: Heidi believes serving nutritious local foods is part of their commitment to caring for the “whole child.” When produce is delivered, children get to know the farmers by name and learn that real people in their community grow their food. Sonflower also hosts a pop-up farmers market for parents to meet the farmers and learn how the food is produced. When the center receives carrots with the greens on, children learn which part grows below the ground and which part above and practice preparing fresh produce with child-friendly utensils. The children also love to walk through the center’s strawberry patch, and parents are interested in helping in the garden too.
When the egg farmer has fewer eggs during the winter, the center overcomes this by slightly altering their menus and uses this as a learning opportunity to share with the children how it’s natural for chickens to take a break from laying eggs in the wintertime. One of the farmer's children was excited to share when his family got more chicks and to tell his friends they’d have more eggs soon!
Food quality and taste: The local produce is fresh and delicious. Sonflower Seeds offers taste tests for the children and many opportunities to try new foods, and has seen the children become more adventurous. Children might not eat cooked spinach, but will pluck the leaves and eat them raw from the garden.
Marketing: Sourcing locally has helped Sonflower Seeds to attract new families too. They send out a questionnaire to new families about children’s dietary needs and preferences and promote their participation in Farm to ECE so parents know it is a priority. They display a Farm to ECE poster provided by the Collaborative on a fence outside of the building. This year alone, Sonflower Seeds added five new families because of their commitment to local foods.
Heidi says, “The Farm to ECE Collaborative has grown our Center. It has helped us to see that a little bit of what we were already doing can be done on a broader scale, it helped turn us into a niche program by putting into policy that we serve fresh and local fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy, and promoting it. Once you put things out there more things come to you.”
The Center receives wholesale pricing from many of the local producers and says their monthly Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) reimbursement more than covers the costs of local and organic foods. She also learned that CACFP offers reimbursement for plants, seeds, and vegetables grown by the Center.
Heidi says she really enjoys the Farm to ECE Collaborative and the energetic staff, so much so that she decided to become one of seven mentors for other centers in North Carolina. As a co-leader of an Affinity group for center directors, Heidi helps to facilitate monthly meetings to discuss food and gardening and support other centers in meeting their Farm to ECE goals. The Chatham County Partnership for Children and their Child Care Health Consultant, Dorothy Rawleigh, has also helped Sonflower Seeds with connecting with farmers, other centers nearby, and purchasing materials for raised bed gardens.
“So much of children’s time is spent eating, why not make the quality of the food a priority?” Heidi’s advice for other centers considering Farm to ECE: “You have to be willing to do trial and error. Try to meet a farmer every month, and be willing to collaborate with other directors nearby. Just give it a try!”
Interested in getting started with sourcing locally? Check out these local food purchasing resources from the NC Farm to ECE Initiative.
Celebrating the Week of the Young Child with Farm to ECE - Social Distancing & Family Friendly Activities
We recognize that during this unprecedented time, early care and education providers are making adjustments to meet the demand of local COVID-19 response efforts. That may mean limiting the number of children sites serve, changing activities to adhere to safety and social distancing guidelines, or halting business altogether, but providing families with tools and resources to support young children at home. With this in mind, National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is committed to supporting you and providing resources to help you think of ways to stay engaged. In our Week of the Young Child celebration recommendations, we’ve identified activities that are appropriate for safety and social distance measures during this time (SD Friendly) and also activities that work well to support families with resources or education activities (Family Friendly).
The Week of the Young Child™ (April 11-17, 2020) is an annual celebration sponsored by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). The purpose of the Week of the Young Child™ (WOYC) is to focus public attention on the needs of young children and their families and to recognize the early childhood programs and services that meet those needs. National Farm to School Network is excited for another fun-filled week celebrating young children and their families! See below opportunities for farms to ECE activities during WOYC that support ECE providers in creating learning environments that align with NAEYC Program Standards and can be social distancing (SD) and family friendly.
Kick-Off Saturday: Host a collaborative kick-off. Share ideas and prepare for a week of celebration.
- Establish your site as an access point for families to purchase and learn about healthy, local foods by becoming a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)/food box pick-up site. (Family Friendly)
- Join an on-line learning and discussion community to share ideas and find support from others in the ECE community. (SD Friendly)
- Replenish your arts and crafts supply for Artsy Thursday. (SD and Family Friendly)
Music Monday: Turn gardening into a routine.
- Turn on the music and start every garden time with a musical warm up. Simple garden activities can be set up as an obstacle course using old plant pots and then have students weave in and out of the pots. (SD and Family Friendly)
- Encourage children to engage in “seed yoga” to music. Invite children to curl into a ball to pretend to be a seed, then guide them through movements of unfurling and stretching along with the rhythm as they “grow roots,” “send out leaves,” and “grow flowers and fruit”. (SD and Family Friendly)
Tasty Tuesday: Conduct a taste testing activity to allow children to try new or unfamiliar food.
- Set up taste tests of local ingredients and food from the garden or local grocer and try a new recipe at home. (Family Friendly)
- Create a recipe book using images the children draw and share the book with family. (SD and Family Friendly)
Work Together Wednesday: Build together, celebrate together.*
- Engage in self-initiated sensory table play with a variety of kitchen tools (e.g., measuring cups and spoons, colanders, sifters). Be sure to sanitize tools. (SD and Family Friendly)
- Create a space for tiny helpers to make cooking with toddlers easy and fun. (Family Friendly)
- Children can work together in small groups with sanitized tools and help with starting a vegetable garden. (SD and Family Friendly)
Artsy Thursday: Grow green thumbs with simple gardening crafts.
- Children can draw pictures about their time in the garden or a farm field trip and create class books about their experiences. (SD and Family Friendly)
- Provide clothing, props, and puppets that allow children to transform themselves into roles such as farmers, gardeners, and grocers. (Family Friendly)
- Create handmade books to document stages of plant growth, areas of the garden during different times. (SD and Family Friendly)
Family Friday: Promote and enhance family and parent engagement.
- Send recipes home (via email) to engage families; highlight a seasonal fruit or vegetable. (SD and Family Friendly)
- Consider hosting a virtual event where parents can learn about how to cook or prepare food with children at home by using local produce. (SD and Family Friendly)
- Invite parents and family members to share their experience and expertise in farming, gardening, cooking, and other food and agriculture related activities via a newsletter. (SD Friendly)
While farm to ECE initiatives are an impactful approach for programs and educators, local-level and state-level farm to ECE initiatives can also support policy, system and environmental change. Building opportunities for farm to ECE initiatives can align with NAEYC state affiliate strategic plans and goals. Read more about how partner states are leveraging farm to ECE in our 2019 WOYC blog.
Now more than ever, we hope that we can all take this important week to recognize and celebrate the important role that ECE, particularly ECE providers, take in our community and find new and innovative ways to support young children and their families. You can find more resources to celebrate Week of the Young Child from NAEYC and can find more ways to grow farm to early care and education from the National Farm to School Network.
*Per CDC guidelines, “Do not share toys with other groups of infants or toddlers, unless they are washed and sanitized before being moved from one group to the other.”
Children enjoying a radish taste test at Tee Tee’s Daycare in Valdosta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Kim Jackson, owner of Tee Tee’s Daycare .
Guest Blog By Gina Cook, Quality Care for Children
However, many children grow up in Georgia not knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown. Many childcare providers may have limited access to fresh, healthy, locally grown foods and serve only canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.
In 2017, the formation of the Georgia Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative was made possible by a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Eighteen early care providers across the state were selected to receive mini grants, resources, materials, training, and professional development opportunities to incorporate farm to ECE activities, including gardening, local procurement, and nutrition education. Here are some of the take-aways and lessons learned from the Learning Collaborative's activities.
Overcoming Barriers to Eating Local Foods
Limited Access to Local Foods
One would think since farming is the foundation of the state’s economic well-being, there would be more locally grown produce in the stores. However, this was not always the case and providers needed support to find out where to purchase local foods. The Georgia Grown website has been helpful in identifying what is in season and finding farms and locations to purchase local foods.
Local farm stands are usually only open certain hours during the day or on the weekends. Family childcare providers cannot get away during the day since they are usually the only ones caring for the children and weekends are filled with family commitments. So running to the grocery store, which stays open late, may be the only option. Some providers have been able to find local products at the grocery stores they frequent and others have focused their attention on the foods they can grow in the garden and serve on-site as first steps for serving local foods.
The childcare providers were concerned that children would waste the food, especially if it was more expensive to purchase. Offering exposures to new foods through taste tests and gardening increase children’s acceptance of new foods and can help decrease food waste. A few of the sites have been creative in their purchasing practices to help address costs. One site was able to purchase marked-down produce by developing a relationship with a local farmer.
Many of the providers have commented on the time involved in the preparation of fresh, local foods. They must spend more time washing, cutting, and cooking. It was much easier for them to open up a can or put frozen vegetables in the microwave. Several of the sites have struggled with knowing what foods to purchase, especially when it comes to picky eaters, and how to prepare. Choosing foods that are easy to prepare and broadly appealing to little ones, like cherry tomatoes, snap-peas, and strawberries, can be one initial way to overcome this challenge. Spoilage has been a main concern since fresh food tends to go bad much quicker. However, one provider has purchased a food storage vacuum system that allows her to freeze what she grows or purchases.
Local Food Successes
All of the providers in the Learning Collaborative have planted a garden with a variety of vegetables. Some are able serve these at meals and snacks and invite families to come and experience first-hand the garden. Parents have shared that their children’s excitement and pride in their gardens is contagious. Not only are the children more likely to try fruits and vegetables if they participate in the growing process, but the parents are too! One parent remarked, “I am learning to eat red pepper because my son is eating it at school.”
The participants of the Learning Collaborative agree that behaviors around food are difficult to change. Some of the providers have commented that getting their families to try new foods has come with some resistance. To address this issue, providers welcome parents to cook and participate in a taste test with the children. Providers also offer dishes with familiar flavor profiles that go well will family staples like beans and rice eaten by Hispanic families served by the childcare site. Some of the gardens produce an abundance of vegetables and the sites have given some to the families in their care along with a simple recipe to make at home.
Despite the challenges, all of the providers agree that the successes outweigh the barriers. Children are enjoying gardening and eating what they grow. They try more foods and actually like them! They can even tell you how seeds grow! This enthusiasm has spread to the families at the sites and now families are becoming more aware of what they are serving at home. One provider tells the story of the little girl who ASKS for salad now!
You can hear more about local procurement in family child care in Georgia from Gina and family child care owner, Maria Claudia Ortega, in this NFSN webinar, Farm to Early Care and Education in Family Child Care.
Guest blog by Dara Bloom and Caroline Stover
Are you ready to purchase local food for your center, but you don’t know where to start?
We are excited to share a new resource from the Kellogg-funded Farm to Early Care and Education project in North Carolina all about local food purchasing! This NC Cooperative Extension publication will be useful for child care centers and technical assistance providers who are trying to figure out the best way to purchase local food for meals and snacks for their centers. We based this publication off of the experiences of the 12 child care centers in 10 counties that participated in the North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Farm to ECE project in 2017. Working with these centers, we found that there was no “one size fits all” answer to how to most easily purchase local food for meals and snacks. Each center completed a self-assessment to determine what was most important to them, and used new or existing partnerships within their community to figure out what local food options were available to them. The result was a variety of different ways to purchase local food, depending on their priorities and local context.
It can be hard to provide guidance to centers and technical assistance providers about local food purchasing when it depends so much on their context and what their priorities are, but we took what these centers learned and created a short guide that walks you step-by-step through what to think about as you start to purchase local food. Here are some highlights of the tips and resources that we share:
How do you define “local”?
Since there’s no set definition for local, we encourage centers to first think about what they value most about purchasing local food to help them create a definition. It’s also a good idea to engage parents and staff in determining what will count for local for you. For example, you might want to stick with farmers within your community, or you might feel comfortable with a more regional definition or statewide. Some centers choose to support certain types of farmers with their purchases based on race or gender. Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate your definition to your community and your vendors.
What local food option is best for you?
We’ve developed a decision tree along with a description of several different types of vendors who sell local food to help you decide which vendor works best for you based on your capacity, needs, and preferences. The decision tree asks you to consider whether you need food for meals or just snacks and taste tests, how many children are in your center, what your storage capacity is, and whether you want to have a direct relationship with your farmer or you’re comfortable working through a third party to purchase local food. For centers who don’t want to create a new purchasing account, we encourage them start where they already purchase, whether that’s a distributor or grocery store. But remember, purchasing local food is going to require some relationship-building and investment no matter what vendor you choose!
How can you expand the market for local farmers?
Sometimes centers order very small volumes of produce, especially when they choose to start small and only need enough for snacks or taste tests. While this is a great strategy to help centers get their feet wet with local food purchasing and integrate it into their kitchens and classrooms, these small volumes aren’t enough to support a farmer in the long run. In addition, farmers may not want to go out of their way to deliver a small volume, since it doesn’t make much sense for them economically. However, there are a lot of ways that you can work to help make the market more profitable. For example, if you can work with other centers and place orders together, you can order higher volumes. Don’t forget that you can also advertise to parents and staff as another potential market. This may mean offering your center as a CSA drop-off point (Community Supported Agriculture, see https://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more information). It can also help a farmer if you advertise who you purchase from so that parents can look for those farmers in other markets. Finally, consider talking to your local farmer about purchasing “seconds”, or smaller sized products that they might have a hard time selling in other markets.
To see the full guide and the decision tree, as well as other resources, check out: go.ncsu.edu/f2ecelocalfoodpurchasing.
FFC offers a unique model for farm to ECE procurement as they are a food hub housed within the Food Bank of North Alabama. Originally established to support farmers selling “fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to Alabama schools, hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants and workplace cafeterias,” FFC helps farmers obtain GAP certification so they can sell their products in wholesale markets and distributes local foods to major grocery chains and school sites in North Alabama. FFC recently extended their local procurement service to ECE settings by launching a pilot project at 5 ECE sites in the Huntsville and Madison County region of Alabama.
The concept for the farm to ECE procurement pilot launched in 2017 when FFC connected with the Alabama Partnership for Children. The two organizations along with other ECE and food systems partners began building a statewide farm to ECE coalition. The coalition contributed to pilot planning by hosting focus groups and developing a survey to determine the interest and potential engagement level of ECE providers in the region. The pilot officially launched in spring of 2018 with weekly deliveries of strawberries to the 5 ECE sites, and quickly expanded to include cucumbers, cherry tomatoes, peaches, squash, zucchini, blueberries, watermelon, apples, and satsumas.
FFC had to overcome several challenges to bring fresh, locally grown food to these ECE sites. First, many ECE providers lacked equipment or staff to prepare fresh food on site. To begin to address this, FFC launched the pilot with strawberries, an easy snack that requires minimal preparation. This approach also helped FFC win over hesitant staff at the sites. The cook at one site in particular was very hesitant about local foods. After strawberry season, his whole perception and attitude toward serving fresh food had changed and he was very enthusiastic, especially about the quality of the produce.
FFC also found that the ECE sites needed additional support to both incorporate fresh, local food into their food budgets and encourage child acceptance of new foods. In the pilot, FFC targeted ECE sites participating in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and educated providers on using local foods within the CACFP meal pattern. In addition, FFC provided educational resources – book recommendations, coloring sheets, garden-related activities, USDA recipes, etc. – for ECE providers to use when introducing new foods to familiarize children with the food and teach them how crops are grown and harvested. These materials include a parent newsletter with program information, age-appropriate cooking activities, and explanations about WIC and SNAP eligibility requirements. “Again, part of our mission that is so important to us is [food] access. A lot of people qualify [for WIC and SNAP] without realizing it,” Natalie notes.
FFC also had to navigate the much smaller quantity of product required for ECE sites. Instead of asking farmers to deliver these microcases to the individual ECE sites, farmers deliver to the food bank, or in some cases, FFC will pick up the orders and transport them in a Food Bank-shared refrigerated van to the sites themselves. Their advice for tackling the transportation and logistics of Farm to ECE? Pair up with a food hub. “They have the procurement and distribution piece established already and pooling resources is imperative for sustainability,” Carey explains.
FFC sees their success not just in the increased amount of local foods served to and eaten by young children, but in the increased interest in and focus on healthy local foods at the ECE sites they are working with. One site is starting a garden with the help of Master Gardeners, and another will be connecting with an on-site farmers’ market for families and community members. FFC attributes much of the success of the pilot to the collaboration and support of the Alabama Farm to ECE Coalition. The work has also been heavily influenced and informed by farm to ECE networks and stakeholders in other states. “We are extremely grateful to states like Wisconsin, Georgia, North Carolina,” Carey says. “They have been so helpful and willing to share information. That really is just a part of the farm to school/ECE culture. We are all trying to make our kids as healthy as possible. That’s a wonderful thing.
With the support of the Alabama Farm to ECE Coalition and national partners, FFC is planning for growth and expansion of local food procurement in ECE sites across Alabama. FFC will be expanding to 12 sites in North Alabama this summer and will start reaching new areas of the state in subsequent years. Eventually, FFC would like to have its own processing capability to provide ECE sites with local, pre-chopped fruits and veggies, increasing opportunities for more ECE sites to serve local products in meals and snacks. Natalie notes that once an ECE site gets involved with serving fresh, local food to their kids, they are hooked – the ECE providers and kids alike. As demand continues to grow, FFC will be working hard this strawberry season to keep up with interest and to grow farm to ECE across the state. “Our local farmers are able to select varieties that are delicious and nutritious. When our prime harvest season is here, we want to make sure we are taking advantage of it for the kids, community, farmers and the local economy.”
The Week of the Young Child (WOYC) is a week-long celebration of our youngest learners and eaters. Hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), WOYC recognizes and celebrates the importance of early care and education (ECE) and the educators, families, and communities that contribute to each young child’s success. NFSN is celebrating WOYC by sharing the abundant opportunities of farm to ECE to support ECE providers in creating high-quality learning environments and aligning with NAEYC Program Standards. While farm to ECE initiatives are an impactful approach for programs and educators, state-level farm to ECE initiatives can support positive systems level change. The collaboration and state-wide network building opportunities of farm to ECE initiatives can align with AEYC state affiliate strategic plans and goals. State affiliate farm to ECE initiatives and partnerships, like these examples from Georgia and Iowa, demonstrate the power of these partnerships and the benefit to providers, families, and children.
Farm to ECE Training Delights and Empowers NAEYC Annual Conference Attendees
In 2017, Georgia Organics and Georgia AEYC partnered to host a farm to ECE pre-conference training for NAEYC Annual Conference participants. This workshop served as a fundraiser for the Georgia AEYC affiliate and offered the opportunity to highlight farm to ECE as a strategy to meet programmatic and early learning standards. The six hour training took a deep dive into farm to ECE with 25 participants from across the US and two other countries.
The session started with context setting from Lacy Stephens, National Farm to School Network Program Manager, who gave an overview of farm to ECE research and case studies. Next, participants explored hands-on activities from four of our favorite curriculums: they bravely reached their hand into a mystery bag and described what they felt (USDA’s Grow It, Try It, Like It); they organized toy animals and kitchen supplies (A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum to Support Farm to ECE Models by the Policy Equity Group); they sang a garden song in English and Spanish (Our First Harvest from City Blossoms) and finally tasted a variety of colorful carrots (Harvest for Healthy Kids).
And of course, they cooked! Participants created three simple and healthy recipes that young children could help make: veggie quesadillas, hummus dip and veggies; and a plant part salad. The veggie-centered lunch menu highlighted local foods and also met CACFP meal standards! The session wrapped up with a robust discussion on how participants could replicate the training with their program staff, and they shared ideas and recommendations on how to start and grow farm to ECE.
Farm to ECE training attendees use all of their senses to explore a carrot in a lesson from Harvest for Healthy Kids.
Training attendees prepare to share a plant part salad for lunch.
Iowa AEYC and Farm to ECE Partnership Expands Healthy Opportunities
In 2016, the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children (Iowa AEYC) received funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to lay the foundation for farm to ECE across the state of Iowa. They partnered with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, an organization that has made gains in community wellness and regional food systems through several touchpoints, including early childhood. Iowa AEYC launched their farm to ECE work by completing an environmental scan, engaging its association members in the process. The scan focused on identifying current healthy food access and physical activity initiatives, identifying gaps in program reach, and interviewing stakeholders on priority needs.
From this, the Farm to ECE Learning Group model was born. Regional cohorts of early childhood educators meet monthly to explore farm to ECE concepts. These educators are given the tools they need to integrate farm to ECE into their ECE settings. Together, the educators also explore ways to engage families in order to drive healthy eating at home. The Farm to ECE Learning Group model emphasizes developmentally appropriate practices and supports the early childhood workforce by making gardening, nutrition education, and local food purchasing manageable within the demands of the early childhood sector today. The most important lesson learned—one size does not fit all. It is important work within the differences in age groups served, funding streams, geographic location, and family background.
Farm to ECE blends seamlessly with the strategic plan of Iowa AEYC. Farm to ECE expands the focal point of the support system around young children. Beyond the parents, and childcare environment to society as a whole. It builds on community resources and partnerships recognizing that hungry, undernourished children are unable to meet their full potential. The program also operates within the affiliate’s core beliefs valuing innovation, transparency, and collaborative relationships.
Learn more about the Week of the Young Child and find ways to celebrate on the NAEYC website. To learn more about connecting farm to ECE and AEYC state affiliates or to get started with farm to ECE, contact Lacy Stephens, NFSN Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.