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Farm to ECE Opportunities in North Alabama

NFSN Staff Wednesday, May 29, 2019
This post is part of our Farm to ECE Procurement Blog Series, which is devoted to the many ways that early care and education sites connect children and their families to local food and local food producers. Read previous posts in this series here. Have a farm to ECE procurement story to share? Contact Lacy Stephens at 

Strawberries. Sweet potatoes. Squash. Microgreens. These are just some of the Alabama-grown fresh fruits and vegetables that the Farm Food Collaborative (FFC) has been distributing to local restaurants, grocery stores, and schools across North Alabama since 2013. Now, Natalie Bishnoi and Carey Martin-Lane, FFC co-managers, are bringing these fresh fruits and vegetables to early care and education (ECE) settings. 
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.”  

Celebrate the Week of the Young Child with Farm to Early Care and Education

NFSN Staff Monday, April 08, 2019
By NFSN Staff; Erin Croom, Georgia Organics; and Kelly Hanson, Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children 

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

Small Changes Add Up To Big Impacts In ECE Meals

NFSN Staff Thursday, April 04, 2019
This post is part of our Farm to ECE Procurement Blog Series, which is devoted to the many ways that early care and education sites connect children and their families to local food and local food producers. Read previous posts in this series here. Have a farm to ECE procurement story to share? Contact Lacy Stephens at 

Guest Blog by Starr Morgan, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center

“Farm to table is too expensive.” 
“I don’t have a commercial kitchen for scratch cooking.”
“I don’t have enough time.”
“The children won’t like the food.” 
“The teachers won’t support this.” 

These are just a few of the reasons that early care and education programs may be hesitant to change their current meal practices. But what if implementing a farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) meal service doesn’t have to be all or nothing? What if transitioning to local foods is no more expensive than most current food service budgets? What if children love the food, especially the funny colored carrots or purple potatoes? 

Over the last 15 years, I have made healthy options for children a priority in the early childhood education programs I have led. I am currently the Executive Director at the Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center, an inner city Reggio Emilia inspired early learning program serving children six weeks to kindergarten. With an ill-equipped, small kitchen I have transformed the food program into one that is locally sourced, providing scratch-made healthy meals for children. I have also transformed the food program at an ECE center with a large commercial-grade kitchen – one where meals were prepared and delivered by an outside source – and even one without a stove or oven! What I have learned is that changes can be made a little at a time or all at once. The budget doesn’t have to increase and a commercial kitchen is not required. Here are some small changes to begin transitioning to meals and snacks that are locally and intentionally sourced, scratch-made, and healthy!

Collaborations are Essential
It is essential that leadership in the program to find value in farm to ECE efforts. The board of directors, program director, kitchen manager and/or any other leadership positions must be on board and support the food service staff. All persons involved in procurement, menu planning, and cooking must also find this work important. Without the support of those making decisions and implementing the menus, the steam quickly pitters out. My first step as a program director included making my case to the executive director by sharing the benefits of transitioning our food service to one that values local, fresh, made-from-scratch healthy meals and snacks. I asked for an increased food budget for three months to track the cost, accessibility, and feasibility to maintain the changes long term. Once permission was granted, planning was essential before beginning the three month test phase.  

A local food hub in my area that supplies food from farms to restaurants at wholesale prices was our first connection. Through West Michigan Farm Link we were able to purchase fresh produce, large blocks of cheeses, yogurt, grass fed beef, non-GMO chicken, and other food items from local farms. A local bakery supplied us with bread and buns at wholesale prices.  

After three months, I learned that with careful planning our budget did not increase as we incorporated local, fresh, food made from scratch!

Time is on Your Side
It is helpful when programs acknowledge that a transition to local food sourcing doesn’t need to happen all at once. Implementing small, meaningful changes helps create sustainability in the long run. Start by identifying what produce can be easily swapped out for healthier or locally sourced versions. Let’s face it – in Michigan (as in many states) the short growing season will never allow us to transition to 100% locally sourced fresh produce. But when things are in season, start by making a few key switches – like fresh green beans instead of canned green beans. Explore participating in a CSA, purchasing from a local food hub, or even growing a center garden. Programs can also connect with local farm-to-table restaurants to ‘buddy up’ with purchasing at wholesale prices. Teaming up with other local businesses can also be helpful, such as a local bakery for slider buns. Taking time to develop relationships can lead to long-term, sustainable procurement opportunities. When identifying sources for procurement, it is helpful to be creative and think outside the ‘farm’!   

Details Matter
If you’re concerned about how procuring local foods might impact your budget, take a detailed look at your current expenses. Consider where you might be able to reduce spending in order to leave room for more local foods. What do you purchase pre-made that can be made from scratch? For example, locally sourced tomatoes and spices can be an easy alternative for pre-made pizza sauce, tomato soup, or spaghetti sauce. If you’re purchasing individually packaged items (snack crackers, raisin boxes, etc.), considering swapping to bulk packaging and use the savings for local food. Changing purchasing patterns can be an easy way to reduce waste, save money, and reallocate funds to healthier, local food. 
When leadership is on board, there are many steps programs can take to start the process of transitioning to a farm to ECE food service. Research tells us that providing a variety of healthy meals and snacks at a young age has lifelong benefits including the development of healthy lifestyles and greater school success. Involve leadership, start small, and connect with your community!  

Starr Morgan is the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center. She has worked in early childhood education for 22 years and has focused efforts in promoting healthy eating habits in young children for 13 years. Starr believes that when provided a large variety of healthy meals and snacks at a very young age, children can develop healthy habits that last a lifetime! 

Local Sourcing for Childcare: A Recipe for Farm to ECE Success

NFSN Staff Monday, March 18, 2019
In celebration of National CACFP Week, the National Farm to School Network is launching a series of blogs devoted to the many ways that early care and education sites connect children and their families to local food and local food producers. The Farm to ECE Procurement Blog Series will feature guest writers highlighting farm to ECE procurement successes from across the country. Have a farm to ECE procurement story to share? Contact Lacy Stephens at

By Maire Dekle,  Common Market

Butternut squash and honeycrisp apple soup. Free-range chicken quesadillas. Fresh-baked rainbow carrot whole-wheat muffins. 

Hungry yet? This is just a sampling of the scratch-cooked, locally sourced food children at The Caring Center get to enjoy each day!

Chef Erica Lewis and her kitchen crew serve up morning snack, lunch, and afternoon snack for about 170 children at this early care program, located in West Philadelphia. The Caring Center has long had a commitment to serving healthy, home-cooked meals, but as many food service professionals could attest, there can be all kinds of challenges: from limited cold-storage space for fresh produce and meat, to the additional prep time and labor required, to the legwork needed to identify quality ingredients (sustainably produced, minimally processed, and ideally, locally sourced). 

Erica and The Caring Center partner with The Common Market, a nonprofit local food distributor based in Philadelphia, to help lighten that legwork and source sustainable produce, meat, grains, and more. The Common Market works with a network of family-owned farms in the Mid-Atlantic, teaming up with producers to source, aggregate, and distribute their products to food service staff like Erica.

In just the last three months, The Caring Center has sourced more than 3,500 pounds of food from local producers, supporting dozens of small- and mid-sized family farms within our region. Ground turkey, chicken breasts, sweet potatoes, and the much-loved Honeycrisp apples have been among the top items, and feedback has been very positive. (One child even tried chicken for the first time…and discovered he liked it!)

How does The Caring Center make local sourcing work for them? Erica identifies where farm-fresh foods will have the greatest impact, be most cost-effective, and meet parents’ requests: antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken and turkey; produce in peak season; whole wheat flours. She sources other items from broadline distributors, bread and milk distributors, and occasionally retailers. The Caring Center participates in the Child & Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), receiving reimbursement for meals. At this point, Erica and her assistant Tammy have mastered their CACFP-compliant recipes, recording, and reporting.

Additionally, thanks to grant funding, The Common Market is able to offer a discount to child care providers, with the goal of building capacity around local food sourcing and preparation. Chefs like Erica who have the skills and know-how to work with fresh ingredients gain new experience in local sourcing — and can pass those skills on to other ECE staff.

The Caring Center’s farm to ECE commitment continues beyond the kitchen. At family-style meals in their classrooms, children are encouraged to try new foods: from Brussels sprouts to blueberries, acorn squash to new apple varieties. Posted profiles of featured farmers provide more information for families and staff about where their children’s food is coming from. Farm to ECE programming on-site includes Erica’s cooking classes and gardening. (This past summer’s crop featured cantaloupes, cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, basil…and one watermelon!)

Erica and The Caring Center have demonstrated that they are local sourcing superstars. They consider quality food service to be an integral part of their program, with local foods as a part of their appeal. But what are their additional secret ingredients for farm to ECE success? For local sourcing to be a sustainable part of a center’s food program, food service staff and leadership must have the passion and intent to make healthier, more sustainable choices for the children they serve. 

We’ve also seen that this work needs to be built on a foundation of staff expertise around both nutrition and budgeting. Erica has been in food service for 25 years (at The Caring Center for 18!) and acknowledges that she has her cooking and administrative work down to a well-organized system, making the most out of the kitchen space and equipment she has. Having that experience gives her room to experiment and take on new challenges — and opportunities. 

Erica has recently started training other child care staff and directors through the Action for Early Learning Alliance in West Philadelphia. She’s sharing how to set up kitchens, where to source quality ingredients, and how to stay CACFP-compliant while offering nutritious, delicious food. Her ultimate goal? 

“I want to show that they don’t have to go the way of offering processed foods with lots of additives. We can get better food for our children in the city of Philadelphia.”

The Caring Center is an early childhood education provider for children 6 weeks to 8 years old, nationally accredited through the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) and rated Keystone STAR 4. The Common Market Mid-Atlantic is a mission-driven distributor of sustainable, local farm foods, connecting institutions and communities with good food from over 200 producers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia. 

Farm to ECE in Family Child Care

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 20, 2019
By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) is a group of strategies and activities that offer increased access to healthy, local foods, gardening opportunities, and food-based activities to enhance the quality of educational experience, while also expanding healthy food access and family engagement. Nearly one quarter of children spend time in family child care homes before they reach kindergarten. Because farm to ECE adapts readily to diverse settings and ages and abilities of children, farm to ECE is a great fit for family child care homes. 

In North Carolina, the Wake County Smart Start Farm to Child Care program is a collaboration of multiple organizations that work together to support child care facilities in Wake County that serve low-income families and children. The Farm to Child Care program supports ECE providers, children, and families in accessing  healthy, nutritious food. Comprised of Wake County Smart Start, Advocates for Health in Action, NC Cooperative Extension, and Shape NC, the Farm to Child Care program works together to support the almost 170 family child care home facilities in the county.

The program holds training to help child care providers better understand how to use what’s in season and to give them the skills to be able to move from canned to fresh and local food. Because family child care facilities don’t buy their food in large quantities, the Farm to Child Care program’s training focuses on diverse ways that family child care providers can obtain local foods, including directly from a local farmer and from an onsite garden. Overall, the program focuses on trainings that encourage family child care home facilities that want to focus on healthy living to make their programs holistic, incorporating the core elements of farm to ECE - local procurement, gardens, and food and nutrition education -  into multiple aspects of their program. 

In 2017, grants from the WK Kellogg Foundation brought together five organizations to form the Georgia Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative. Comprised of Georgia Organics, Quality Care for Children, Little Ones Learning Center, Voices for Georgia’s Children, and The Common Market, the collaborative partnership works to provide mini grants, free resources, materials, training, and professional development opportunities to early care providers interested in incorporating farm to ECE activities into their ECE environments, including educational activities and  meal services. 

Of the 18 Learning Collaborative sites throughout Georgia, eight are family child care homes. With support from the learning collaborative, these family child care homes create farm to ECE action plans, and receive on-site technical assistance in classrooms, training and professional development, menu consultation, and other resources to utilize in their programs. The Learning Collaborative sites are able to use the mini grants they receive to pay for books, materials, and professional development, offering them the opportunity to implement successful farm to ECE strategies into their programs.

Jackson Child Care uses their Farm to Table program to ensure that their children are ready for kindergarten, recognizing that 3-5 year olds are at the perfect age to use farm to ECE activities to align with standards. With the Creative Curriculum© as a foundation , the Farm to Table program uses farm to ECE activities to meet Virginia’s early learning standards for math, language/reading, art, and physical and cognitive development. A large part of Jackson Child Care’s program involves bringing the children out in the community and using community connections to help children learn about their food system and gain support and resources to make Farm to Table successful. Through field trips to local grocery stores and farmers markets, children are able to see and hear where their food comes from and interact with the people who grow and sell their food.

To learn more about the opportunities and benefits of farm to ECE in family child care homes, watch a recording of our February 2019 Trending Topics Webinar: Farm to Early Care and Education in Family Child Care.  Also check out USDA Team Nutrition's new version of it's popular Grow It, Try It, Like It! nutrition education materials, specifically for family child care homes. The resource has been updated and customized with posters, fruit and vegetable cards and recipes for for use by family child care homes. Download the resource here. Learn more about farm to ECE and Creative Curriculum© in Policy Equity Group’s A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum to Support Farm to ECE Models

Farm to Belly Addresses Food Equity with Kids in Greenville, South Carolina

NFSN Staff Thursday, January 31, 2019
By Anna Defendiefer, Communications Intern

One of the most important goals to consider when encouraging farm to table practices is providing families and children from all communities with equitable access to nutrition, wholesome foods. A project called “Farm to Belly,” led by coordinator Kerry McKenzie, is making great headway in cultivating food equity in the Greenville, South Carolina community, specifically focusing on early care and education (ECE) initiatives. I had the opportunity to speak with Kerry about the success of the Farm to Belly program, her plans for the future, and about addressing food equity in our own communities.
A collaboration of the Greenville Health System, SHARE Head Start, and the advocacy group Feed & Seed, Farm to Belly aims to curb obesity and increase the accessibility and affordability of healthy food in low-income areas. To do so, Farm to Belly brings farmers markets and pre-made recipe bags to four different Head Start child care centers on a rotating basis, serving over 450 children and their families. Children and their caregivers can shop for foods that they are then encouraged to eat, cook, and discuss together. 
Farm to Belly is a project of Choosy Kids, a company “devoted to promoting health in young children and their families.” Choosy Kids provides classroom intervention and family engagement materials that can be used in tandem with the farmers markets and recipe bags to further encourage healthy habits. A life-size mascot named Choosy – which stands for  for Choose Healthy Options Often, Start Young – visits  Head Start centers during Farm to Belly activities, interacting with children and giving a friendly face to healthy foods. Kerry, who co-created of the mascot during her time at West Virginia University, says that Choosy has been a fantastic motivator for children in getting excited about fruits and vegetables and developing healthy eating habits. She emphasizes that it’s most important to establish those habits early in life, and that’s why she’s passionate about building a program specifically for children in the ECE setting. 
In order to adequately serve the hundreds of children and families Farm to Belly assists, Kerry continuously works with local South Carolina farmers to provide the produce needed for the markets. She employs individuals with special needs to package the recipe bags, and uses the help of generous volunteers and in-kind services to deliver the recipe bags and produce for farmers markets. Volunteers also help to maintain four established gardens in the area. Kerry continuously strives to make her model sustainable, like a “well-oiled machine.” 

Affordability and accessibility can often present barriers when encouraging healthy food consumption in low-income areas, and Farm to Belly aims to encourage healthy habits beyond just in their visits to Head Start Centers. In her efforts to address food inequity on a larger scale, Kerry is actively leading efforts to collect data from Farm to Belly participants - both children and parents - indicating the fruits and vegetables they consume and cook most often. Kerry then presents this data to local convenience stores, encouraging them to carry l the most popular foods (currently vegetables such as carrots, cauliflower, and brussels sprouts). Kerry explains that while it can be difficult to convince these stores to carry perishables that they haven’t historically sold, providing them with solid numbers can present a convincing argument. Kerry started these efforts by working with a Greenville gas station called Spinx, and is planning to work with more convenience stores in the near future.

Moving forward, Kerry plans to focus her efforts in collecting and presenting that data, in order  to make buying healthier foods easier for the whole community. She also continues to perfect the Farm to Belly model, and aims to expand first within the Greenville area, then in other cities and states. When asked about how to address food inequity in our own communities across the nation, she said that education for both children and parents is the first place to start; informing individuals about the positive health benefits of consuming fruits and vegetables can be a key motivator. Kerry also explained multiple detailed visions she has for communities to address food insecurity in the future, including a “Choosy-mobile” and mobile markets that deliver produce in food deserts.

Kerry is not only running a program that is currently helping hundreds of families, she is also continuously looking to the future. I found that incredibly inspiring. The Farm to Belly program can be a model for communities looking to address food equity; Kerry’s enthusiasm and dedication can be a model to all leaders working to advance and strengthen our food system. 

Celebrating Farm to School with Head Start Gardening!

NFSN Staff Thursday, October 25, 2018
Guest post by the National Head Start Association

Gardens offer untapped potential in low-income communities
Head Start strives to provide at-risk children with the support they need to reach their full potential in school and in life. Head Start recognizes good health and nutrition as the foundation of school readiness and child development, and takes a comprehensive approach to supporting and promoting the health and well-being of children and families. This approach includes high-quality health and nutrition standards that are required to be culturally and developmentally appropriate, meet the nutritional needs of all individual children, follow the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and USDA recommendations, and served as family-style meals to promote staff-child interactions and healthy socialization. However, we believe there is untapped potential for garden projects in Head Start and Early Head Start programs which can further improve the health and development of children in vulnerable communities, where fresh foods are most scarce. 

Recognizing the importance of strong health and nutrition in early childhood and understanding many at-risk children and families suffer from lack of access to fresh foods, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) has partnered with the National Farm to School Network to celebrate National Farm to School Month and to spread awareness on this critical issue. In celebration of National Farm to School Month, NHSA is expanding our reach, resources, and partnerships with organizations related to farm to early care and education, with the overall goal to increase access to gardening and its many benefits to low-income communities.

Numerous benefits to starting gardening early
Gardens and the fresh foods they provide in early care and education programs offer numerous benefits, ranging from increased access to nutritious and local foods for children in their vital years of development, to improved physical activity and hands-on learning related to agriculture, health, and nutrition. But not only does gardening contribute to positive child health outcomes, it also fosters healthy interactions and social skills between children, teachers, and families. Additionally, when schools and communities support local food systems, the surrounding economy thrives. 

Research to support these many benefits has grown in recent years and as a result, local fresh foods and gardens have spread through communities and schools. However, most families in vulnerable communities are still food insecure and often live in areas with little to no access to fresh foods, or “food deserts.” Far too often, low-income children and families lack access to basic fresh foods.

So in addition to the National Farm to School Network, NHSA has also joined forces with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation.
Through our partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro, we will work with Head Start programs across the country to support children, families, and communities in the growing of their own fresh produce for life. This multi-year initiative will make garden grants, garden kits, educational curriculum, and garden training available to all Head Start programs, with the goal of creating more edible gardens for young children and their families. The partnership also includes a webinar series, as part of NHSA’s Year of Whole Health, to share information about how to create and sustain a successful Head Start garden program and the benefits for children, families, staff, and the surrounding community. 

By partnering with the National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro, NHSA’s goal is to expand access to gardens, fresh foods and nutrition education materials for children, families, and staff across the Head Start field. NHSA hopes that each new garden grown or current garden maintained will stimulate healthy child development, family and community engagement, and sustainable locally sourced foods. 

How can you help?
Through these partnerships, NHSA encourages all families, teachers, and program leaders in Head Start and across the early care and education field to share educational materials and resources with your communities and find ways to incorporate gardens into your programs and schools. 

  • Visit the NHSA & Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Garden Grants Initiative website to apply for a grant for your Head Start or Early Head Start program and learn about future webinars and resources. 
  • Join us in celebrating National Farm to School Month! Check out NFSN’s Celebration Toolkit for ideas on how your community, school, or program can spread awareness and support locally sourced foods. Did you know that October is National Head Start Awareness Month, too? Head Start programs can celebrate both by raising awareness of Head Start’s impacts and the ways they’re growing healthy kids and healthy families through farm to school activities. 
  • Read through NFSN’s Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education report to understand more about the role Head Start can play in promoting farm to ECE.   
  • Read through the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey produced by NFSN and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. This information is easily shared with families, teachers, and communities through the Fact Sheet, Infographic, and Sharing Toolkit provided in the above link. 
  • Search other helpful resources in NFSN’s resource database to understand more about the benefits of gardening and supporting local fresh foods and how you can spread this initiative to all children and families in need.
To stay up-to-date with the National Head Start Association’s work, follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Happy Farm to School Month!

Results of the National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey

NFSN Staff Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Farm to ECE Supports Healthy Futures for All Children 

By Lacy Stephens, Program Manager

The Results Are In

The National Farm to School Network (NFSN), in partnership with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (MSU CRFS), launched the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey in the spring of 2018. Early care and education (ECE) providers across the country were surveyed to learn about current farm to ECE initiatives, including motivations for participation and challenges to starting or expanding farm to ECE practices. The survey also gathered information from sites not yet participating in farm to ECE to better understand barriers and needs for support. 

We heard from 2,030 respondents serving 255,257 children in 46 states. Of responding providers, 49% are already participating in farm to ECE and another 30% plan to start in the future. Farm to ECE participating providers see a wide range of farm to ECE benefits including increasing access to higher-quality foods, engaging parents and families, offering meaningful experiential learning, and at the same time, improving children’s health. Providers are not the only ones excited about farm to ECE. When asked about feedback that they receive about farm to ECE, 82% of respondents report positive or very positive feedback from children, 73% from parents, and 62% from staff. The benefits of and enthusiasm for farm to ECE are reaching diverse ECE settings and children of diverse racial/ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. 

Despite potential barriers to farm to ECE, providers are successfully integrating all three core elements, including using local foods in meals and snacks (69%), gardening (75%), and educating children about where food comes from and how it grows (76%). Respondents are making great use of gardens, from taste testing (62%) and classroom lessons (61%) to producing food for program meals (38%). Local food use will likely continue to grow in ECE settings. Of all respondents (even those not participating in farm to ECE), 54% anticipate increasing their local purchases in the coming years, increasing markets for local farmers and further bolstering local food systems and economies.

Share the Results & Learn More
To lift up and celebrate these results and build awareness of farm to ECE, NFSN and MSU CRFS have developed an infographic and fact sheet that partners and supporters can use to start the conversation in their networks. These resources highlight the reach and scope of farm to ECE and the many reasons ECE providers choose to implement farm to ECE initiatives.  

To accompany these exciting new resources, NFSN and MSU CRFS also created this sharing toolkit to make it easy to share the survey results and the benefits of farm to ECE. In this toolkit, you’ll find suggested social media posts and graphics along with sample text for newsletters and blogs.  

NFSN and MSU CRFS will continue to offer ways to learn about and further explore this data. Join us for our upcoming October Trending Topics Webinar: Results of the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey on Oct. 11 (register here). Also, look for the release of our full report and state level data from the survey in late fall. Learn more about NFSN’s farm to ECE work, find partners in your state, and learn how to get involved with farm to ECE at Visit to find resources and research on regional food systems from Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.
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