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.