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National Farm to School Network


CACFP lifts up local

NFSN Staff Tuesday, May 17, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate and Natalie Talis, Policy Associate 

In April, the United Stated Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (USDA FNS) released the much anticipated Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) meal pattern final rule and CACFP best practice recommendations. The National Farm to School Network, along with kids, farmers and communities, has reason to applaud these updates. The final rule and best practice recommendations create great opportunity to promote farm to school activities in CACFP programs and open the door for even more of the 3.3 million children served by CACFP to experience the benefits of farm to early care and education.  

The new meal pattern, which is the first revision since the start of the program in 1968, aims to improve the overall nutritional quality of CACFP meals and snacks and ensure that the standards more closely align with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In the final rule, FNS highlights the benefits and growing interest in utilizing local foods in CACFP programs:

Local foods: Local foods can play an important role in creating and promoting a healthy environment. A growing body of research demonstrates several positive impacts of serving local foods and providing food education through CNPs, including increased participation and engagement in meal programs; consumption of healthier options, such as whole foods; and support of local economies.

Implementation of new CACFP meal pattern changes, such as additional fruit and vegetable variety requirements, increased whole grains and reduced sugar in snacks and beverages, can all be supported with farm to early care and education activities. By using local foods, gardening experiences, and food and nutrition education, young children learn to accept and enjoy the variety of healthy foods included in the meal pattern. To read more about the role of farm to early care and education in supporting success in CACFP, see our recent blog, Celebrating Good Nutrition for Our Littlest Eaters

In addition to the final rule, the USDA will release a policy guidance document detailing CACFP best practice strategies that further support a healthy start for our youngest eaters and help create lifelong healthy habits. The policy guidance, to be released this summer, will include using seasonal and local foods in meals along with nutrition education.

In the meantime, get started on the CACFP best practice of serving local food and other farm to early care and education activities with these National Farm to School Network resources:

The new FNS rules emphasize what we continue to see in the field: CACFP and farm to early care and education are key to building the next generation of healthy eaters.    

The Results Are In: Farm to School in Early Childhood Supports Healthy Kids with Bright Futures

NFSN Staff Wednesday, April 13, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

With 8 million children spending an average of 33 hours per week in early care and education settings, farm to school has the potential to set up a great number of young children for a lifetime of health and wellness. New survey results from the National Farm to School Network show just that: farm to school in early childhood is promoting healthy eating habits and providing high quality learning environments for thousands of children at a critical stage of development. 

In 2015, the National Farm to School Network surveyed early care and education providers across the country to better understand current initiatives, motivations and challenges in applying farm to school activities in early care and education settings. Nearly 1,500 providers serving 183,369 young children in 49 states and Washington, D.C., responded and shared insight into the important work that they are doing to connect young children to healthy, local foods and food related educational opportunities. 

We found that more than 50 percent of respondents were already incorporating farm to school activities into their early care and education settings and another 28 percent plan to start in the future. That means thousands of young children are benefiting from farm to school activities like learning where food comes from, planting and tending gardens, and eating locally grown food in meals and snacks. 

Teachers and early care providers agree that farm to school activities help create high quality learning environments that promote life long health and wellness, which are important priorities for children, providers and parents. Respondents identified these as their top three motivations for participating in farm to school:   

  • Teaches children about where food comes from and how it is grown (95%)
  • Improves children’s healthy (95%)
  • Provides children with experiential learning (94%)
One child care provider summed it up this way: “The farm to preschool movement makes our programs better in every way.” Farm to school activities are helping early care and education providers reach their goals of setting young children up for a lifetime of health and success. 

Want to learn more about the survey results and the role of farm to early care and education in supporting healthy kids and high quality educational opportunities? The National Farm to School Network has developed an infographic and fact sheet highlighting key information from the survey. A complete summary of the survey results will be available in mid-May. 

Help us reach reach more young kids, families, providers and communities with the many benefits of farm to school for all ages. Share the results of the survey with 5 people you know who care about our next generation, join the National Farm to School Network and connect with farm to school and early care and education leaders in your region. Get started by clicking below! 

Explore the results

Celebrating good nutrition for our littlest eaters

NFSN Staff Monday, March 14, 2016
By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

Credit: Taking Root Tennessee
Along with the onset of spring, March brings with it many ways to celebrate good nutrition for our littlest eaters. With warmer days comes opportunity for planting spinach and radish seeds and savoring the first tastes of sweet peas and baby greens. March is also National Nutrition Month, a time devoted to celebrating good nutrition for all, as well as National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week, a national campaign aimed at raising awareness about the benefits and importance of the USDA CACFP program. 

The CACFP program provides 1.9 billion meals and snacks to over 3.2 million children in child care centers, family child care homes and after-school programs each year. In addition to ensuring access to nutritious food for children in child care settings, the program also aims to support nutrition education and positive eating habits.

In celebration of these important awarness campaigns, we’re recognizing the work of organization like Taking Root Tennessee, which aims to influence a generation of children to be healthy eaters by exposing them to fresh, healthy foods. To do this, Taking Root Tennessee offers gardening opportunities for young children by building gardens and providing tools, technical assistance and curriculum to early care and education providers. 

For Joshua Smith, Program Coordinator, and Phillip Hester, Program Director, expanding garden education is a natural extension of the work of Taking Root Tennessee’s parent organization, Our Daily Bread of Tennessee. As a CACFP sponsor, Our Daily Bread facilitates the administration of the CACFP program to over 300 family child care homes, child care centers, at risk afterschool programs, and summer food programs, reaching nearly 10,000 children with healthy meals and snacks each day. 

The gardening experience offered by Taking Root Tennessee supports the CACFP aims of contributing to the nutrition knowledge, wellness and healthy growth of young children. As Smith notes, the CACFP meal requirements ensure children are offered fruits and vegetables, while farm to school activities, like gardening and food-related educational opportunities, make it more likely that children will actually eat and enjoy those fruits and vegetables.  

Farm to school activities offered by Taking Root Tennessee not only support the health and wellness of children, but families, early care and education providers and local growers also reap the benefits. One child in the program was so excited about gardening, and his mother so thrilled to see her child eating fresh vegetables, that the family is now in search of a home where they can put in a garden and grow vegetables for the whole family. 

Garden trainings offered by Taking Root Tennessee give early care and education providers the opportunity to expand their palates, as well. Never having tasted a bell pepper, one provider was convinced that they would be too spicy for the children in her care. After tasting the sweetness of a ripe red bell pepper at a training, she eagerly began growing them in the garden and offering them at snack time. 

As providers taste the distinct flavors of freshly grown produce and see how the children respond, they are requesting more information about how to source more fresh, local products. Smith and Hester happily point them towards farmers’ markets and connect them with local producers, increasing market opportunities for local growers. 

As Taking Root Tennessee demonstrates, farm to early care and education and CACFP can be valuable keys to allowing all children the opportunity to grow and eat healthy, local food. To learn more about getting started with farm to school activities in early care and education settings – like gardening, local procurement, and food-based activities to enhance the educational experience – download our Getting Started with Farm to Early Care and Education factsheet. Now is a great time to take actions that will help children celebrate great nutrition all year round!  

Growing stronger from the start

NFSN Staff Friday, November 06, 2015

Farm to school isn’t just for K-12 students; connecting young children to healthy food and nutrition education in preschool and early care settings is an essential component of growing a healthier next generation. The National Farm to School Network is dedicated to engaging more children age 0-5 in activities and experiences that increase acceptance of healthy foods and support life long healthy habits. Through leadership, advocacy, and networking, we’re bringing more farm to preschool to more of our nation’s littlest eaters. 

Earlier this year, Lacy Stephens joined our team as a dedicated farm to preschool specialist, and her work is elevating and prioritizing preschool and early care settings within the wider farm to school and child wellness movements. Lacy represents the National Farm to School Network on the Child and Adult Care Food Program National Advisory Committee and the American Academy of Pediatrics Institute for Healthy Childhood Weight Policy Roundtable, giving the farm to school movement an important voice in conversations about the health and wellness of our nation’s youngest eaters. Our strong partnerships with these organizations and leaders continue to multiply our efforts and outreach at the national, state and local levels. 

We’re also driving the movement forward by gathering data and research that provide insight on the specific needs and opportunities to expand farm to preschool to more children. Our National Survey of Early Care and Education Settings will give us the valuable information to develop new resources and outreach approaches, and the Early Childhood Good Food Access Research (in partnership with Partners for Change and the BUILD Initiative) will identify innovative strategies and policies for increasing access to healthy foods for young children. 

In addition, we’re spreading awareness of farm to preschool by bringing you great stories on our blog, like:

In 2016, we’ll be reconvening the National Farm to School Network Farm to Preschool Group to bring together key stakeholders from early care and education, academia and state and federal agencies to grow and strengthen farm to preschool. We’re also looking forward to offering a robust farm to preschool track at the 8th National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, June 2-4, 2016, in Madison, Wis. It’s an exciting time to be a part of the farm to preschool movement!

Join us in strengthening these efforts to give our littlest eaters a healthy start, and help us ensure that every growing child has access to fresh, healthy food. Donate to the National Farm to School Network on #GivingTuesday, and Newman's Own Foundation will match all gifts up to $10,000. A donation in any amount is an investment in our children. Together, we can make sure they all have access to a bright and healthy future. 

Paving the way for our littlest eaters

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 08, 2015

By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Preschool Associate 

 Photo credit: Hot Springs Community Learning Center

As the farm to school movement grows, so does the work to connect our littlest eaters to healthy food and nutrition education in preschool and early education settings. Farm to preschool is a natural fit for the 0-5 set, as activities like taste tests, time spent in the garden, and lessons in simple food preparation can help young children form taste preferences and healthy eating habits that will impact their wellbeing for a lifetime.  

In celebrating farm to school this October, we also celebrate farm to preschool and the multitude of ways that children in preschool and early childcare settings are connecting with healthy, local food. We’re also recognizing the movers and shakers who are helping bring more farm to preschool to more young children around the country. Here are three innovative approaches to farm to preschool that are growing the movement and paving the way for a generation of healthy eaters: 

Reaching for the Stars with Farm to Preschool
At Hot Spring Community Learning Center in Hot Springs, North Carolina, farm to preschool is a way of life. Children harvest herbs and vegetables from the school garden for snacks and help prepare lunch by shucking corn and snapping green beans grown by local farmers. Students spend much of their day enjoying the garden and open yard, where a visiting herd of sheep is not an uncommon site. According to Co-director and Program Coordinator, Deborah DeLisle, farm to preschool activities not only provide delight and valuable educational opportunities to children, but these activities have also helped the center achieve a five-star rating under North Carolina’s star-rated licensing system. These stars indicate high quality child care programming and are achieved by meeting specific indicators related to areas such as learning environment, variety and quality of activities offered and parent engagement. Many states are moving towards rating systems like the one in North Carolina and, according to DeLisle, there is great opportunity for farm to preschool initiatives to contribute to achieving star-rating standards while providing abundant benefits to children, families and communities.   

Sharing Farm to Child Care Success with Peer Learning Groups 
Renewing the Countryside is in its second year of providing Farm to Child Care trainings across the state of Minnesota. This year, they have piloted small learning groups during the growing season as an innovative approach to providing ongoing technical support and much-desired peer learning opportunities to early care and education providers. Grace Brogan, Program and Communications Manager, cites these peer learning groups as an engaging way to enhance behavior change. Following an initial Farm to Child Care training, participants met throughout the summer to discuss ideas about connecting children with fresh foods from farms, gardens, and farmers markets. According to Brogan, it has been a great way to share recipes, gardening tips, and learning activities like this “Eat the Rainbow” activity from Kate Ziola's Heart to Heart Child Care. Participants also had the opportunity to visit nearby farms and child care gardens to gain inspiration and see best practices in action. 

Growing Farm to Preschool through Research 
To identify best practices in farm to preschool and demonstrate the potential benefits to a wider audience, research and evaluation are a vital part of promoting innovation and growing the farm to preschool movement. Dr. Betty T. Izumi of Portland State University is an important leader in farm to preschool research. Following recent publication in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, results of Dr. Izumi’s Harvest for Healthy Kids Pilot Study evaluation have garnered national attention. Dr. Izumi’s research evaluated the impact of food service changes – that is, offering increased amounts of fruits and vegetables – and implementation of the Harvest for Healthy Kids nutrition education curricula in Head Start centers in Portland, Oregon. Researchers found that students exposed to both food service changes and nutrition education were more likely to try new target foods, like carrots, cabbage, beets, and berries, and were also more likely to report liking those new foods. This important research adds even more support for farm to preschool initiatives and establishes Harvest for Healthy Kids as an impactful, evidence-based nutrition education resource that can be used by a wide variety of early child care and education setting.   

These examples of engaging educational opportunities, innovative trainings, and research and evaluation of best farm to preschool practices demonstrate that the movement continues to expand in exciting and impactful ways. Interested in bringing these innovations to your early child care program? Learn more about farm to preschool and access tips and tools by searching our resource library under the Preschool/Early Care setting. From shucking corn to eating the rainbow, there are hundreds of ways to connect our littlest eaters to healthy food, and keep this movement growing. 

Fertile ground for farm to preschool

NFSN Staff Thursday, August 06, 2015

By Lacy Stephens, Farm to Preschool Associate

Lacy Stephens is the National Farm to School Network’s new Farm to Preschool Associate. Joining the team from Bozeman, Mont., Lacy will help us continue to elevate preschool and early child care needs as a permanent and essential component of the wider farm to school movement. 

If you’ve ever watched a young child bite into a sun-ripened strawberry or a toddler waddle through a pumpkin patch, then you know farm to preschool activities are a natural fit for zero to five-year-olds. Thankfully, the success of farm to school programs in K-12 schools across the nation has set the stage for expansion of the movement to early childhood audiences. While many states have some form of farm to preschool, there is still immense opportunity to reach more children with these impactful initiatives. Here are a few reasons why farm to preschool is a great fit for our littlest eaters: 

Promotes lifelong healthy eating 
In the years before kindergarten, children develop taste preferences and eating habits that will impact their health for a lifetime. Repeated exposure to healthy foods through taste testing, seasonal foods at lunchtime, and garden nibbles encourages adventurous eating and a diverse diet. Variety is vital to ensuring children get the wide-range of nutrients their growing bodies need, and promotes a lifelong habit of healthy food choices. 

Capitalizes on curiosity 
Farm to preschool activities integrate seamlessly with the learning styles of young children. Gardening capitalizes on children’s natural curiosity and encourages them to engage all of their senses. Children gain knowledge about the natural environment and a connection to where their food comes from by exploring in garden beds. And, as children grow older and prepare for kindergarten, the garden is a perfect place to master important skills like counting, identifying colors and practicing the alphabet. 

Benefits beyond the child
The benefits of farm to preschool activities in early care and education settings reach far beyond the child. A child’s enthusiasm for harvesting fresh vegetables and tasting new foods can be a motivating factor for parents to make changes in the foods they serve to their families. Many farm to preschool programs even offer special farm to table family events or Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships for families to ensure the health and education benefits of farm to preschool are continued at home. Preschool programs have the potential to develop strong connections to small local farmers, as well. Class field trips, using produce in meals and snacks and promoting the farmer’s goods to families creates new marketing opportunities for growers. Farm to preschool is truly a win for kids, families, farmers and communities. 

Now is the time to continue growing farm to preschool and capitalize on the momentum of the movement. This year, the role of farm to preschool in promoting child health has been at the forefront of child nutrition policy. In March, the USDA released a memorandum highlighting the use of local foods in Child and Adult Care Food Program. Additional support for farm to preschool has also been asked for in the Farm to School Act of 2015. If the policy ideas and expanded funding proposed in this bill are included in the final reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, all early care and education programs will benefit from access to the USDA Farm to School Grant program. 

State level farm to preschool policy has also been expanding. In Washington, D.C., the passage of the D.C. Healthy Tots Act in 2014 set an important precedent for farm to preschool legislation. This comprehensive bill has a strong emphasis on farm to preschool activities, including all three core elements of farm to school: local procurement, gardens and education. Now is the time to encourage more states and communities to adopt similar polices that will create greater access to farm to preschool for all young learners. 

Many farm to preschool leaders have spent years developing valuable resources and exemplary programs. Moving forward, our challenge is to reach more early care educators with the farm to preschool message and ensure that all programs – from the smallest home care providers to the largest Head Start centers – have the opportunity to be a part of this movement. The more children we reach with farm to preschool, the healthier our next generation will be. 

Learn more about farm to preschool here and access farm to preschool tips and tools in our resource library by searching under the Preschool / Early Care setting. 

Happy Farm to Preschool Day!

NFSN Staff Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Farm to school isn't just for school-age children: Good nutrition and food education are perhaps even more important for our littlest learners. That's where farm to preschool comes in. 

Farm to preschool is a natural extension of the farm to school model, and works to connect early care and education settings (preschools, Head Start, center-based programs, programs in K-12 school districts, and family child care programs) to local food producers. 

Farm to preschool implementation includes the same core elements as farm to school. Farm to preschool differs by location but always includes one or more of the following:

  • Procurement: Local foods are purchased, promoted and served at mealtime or as a snack or taste test;
  • Education: Children participate in education activities related to agriculture, food, health or nutrition; and
  • School gardens: Children engage in hands-on learning through gardening.

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) began working to expand its robust farm to school networks and expertise to include early child care settings in 2011. Since then, NFSN has acted as a lead convener and facilitator for the farm to preschool movement, providing vision, leadership, and support at state, regional, and national levels. Visit our new farm to preschool landing page for more information. 

Many organizations across the country are developing fantastic farm to preschool resources. One of the latest and greatest is this toolkit created by the Washington State Department of Agriculture. In addition to a farm to preschool overview, the new toolkit includes the following pages full of information, links, resources, and ideas to support farm to preschool programs in any location:

Farm to Preschool Curriculum

Engaging Children in Farm to Preschool Activities

Health and Safety for Childcare Meals and School Gardens

Nutritious Meals and Snacks for Preschoolers

Do you have a great resource or a story about farm to preschool success? Share it with us for a chance to win a drawing for $1,000. 

Where does yogurt come from? And how do you milk a cow?

NFSN Staff Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Those are the questions preschoolers in northeast Iowa were asking recently while participating in Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative’s (FFI) Farm to Preschool program. Teachers across the region got creative to teach children where yogurt comes from and all the many ways to enjoy it.

In West Union, Head Start teacher Sara Converse filled a rubber glove with water and attached it to a cardboard cow cutout to teach children where milk comes from and how to milk a cow. At South Winneshiek Elementary’s Jump Start Preschool, students tried three different flavors of yogurt and graphed their favorite as part of a math lesson. At New Hampton Preschool, children made yogurt dip and smoothies and took home yogurt information and recipes for their families to try.

FFI’s Farm to Preschool program introduces a new local food to children each month, covering the same foods that are included in farm to school programs at K-12 school districts in the region. Since the program began in January, children have learned about yogurt, eggs, oats and cucumbers. Preschool students are given opportunities to cook, taste and learn about the foods through various activities during the month.

The program’s positive benefits reach beyond the classroom: Each of the preschools sends information about the foods home with children, including recipes that the kids learned at school and can repeat at home. Some sites also hold monthly farm to preschool celebrations to which parents are invited.  

One class also had a chance to share their Farm to Preschool experience with the school board.  “The principal asked me to present at the school board meeting,” said Shanna Putnam Dibble, Lead Teacher at Jump Start Preschool. “The kids made yogurt popsicles, and the principal and board members tried them.”

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