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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 farmtoschool.org/earlychildhood. Visit foodsystems.msu.edu to find resources and research on regional food systems from Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems.

Healthy Eating Starts Early: Growing Healthy Kids with CACFP and Farm to ECE

NFSN Staff Monday, October 16, 2017
Photo credit: Kelly Rood
By Alexia Thex, National CACFP Sponsors Association

Every single day, child care providers across the nation are growing healthy kids. These unsung heroes work tirelessly day in and day out caring for our children’s minds and bodies. The National CACFP Sponsors Association (NCA) believes that healthy eating starts early and considers it paramount to support these providers in building healthy habits. 

This month we are proud to be a Featured Partner for National Farm to School Month and support providers with tools to support their local farm to school initiatives. “The USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is an indicator of quality childcare and goes hand in hand with farm to school initiatives. “As the founder of Taking Root Tennessee, I have seen first-hand the difference it makes when we get children involved in growing their own food,” shared Senta Hester, NCA President and Founder of Taking Root Tennessee. “This is why we are honored to have the National Farm to School Network as one of our National Allies.”  

We love sharing our CACFP provider farm to early care and education (ECE) success stories.  Kelly Rood, a CACFP participant in Arlington, TX, knows that teaching nutrition isn’t always easy. Through her gardening efforts, she has created a learning environment that encourages teamwork and nurtures responsibility.  As they tend their summer and winter gardens, not only are the children learning about healthy foods, they are also growing their sense of pride.  Parents are excited to see their children trying new fruits and vegetables and the children are all smiles when they see their hard work result in a something ‘yummy.’ 

Joy Parks, a CACFP Home Child Care Provider in Charlotte, NC, gets her kids involved in the food preparation, such as snapping green beans, to make them feel part of the process. She often uses the herbs from their garden to make the ‘final touches’ on their meal. She incorporates learning about new foods in their daily lessons using food cards to teach kids about what they are eating.  “We love promoting the great work of our CACFP providers who are already implementing the 2017 New CACFP Meal Patterns which are the building blocks for teaching healthy eating habits. The new meal patterns focus on the increased consumption of vegetables by separating the fruit and vegetable components, and what better way to increase consumption of a variety of fruits and vegetable than to get the kids involved in the planning, growing, preparing and serving process,” Senta noted.  

As we celebrate National Farm to School Month, we encourage providers to TAKE ACTION by incorporating one or more farm to school activities into your child care program.  Check out the NEW! Child Nutrition Today section of our website. Here you will find kid-friendly, nutritious #cacfpcreditable recipes that incorporate items from your community gardens along with fun activity sheets to incorporate into your lesson plans. Happy Growing!  

Farm to ECE and Head Start: A Natural Alignment

NFSN Staff Tuesday, August 29, 2017
By Tiffany Turner, Senior Fellow, Jamie Kirk Hahn Foundation 

Farm to early care and education (ECE) offers benefits that strongly parallel the goals and priorities of the early care and education community, with a particularly strong alignment with Head Start priority areas, including an emphasis on experiential learning opportunities, parent and community engagement, and life-long health and wellness for children, families and caregivers. Additionally, farm to ECE expands healthy food access for children and families, provides additional market opportunities for farmers and supports thriving communities. 

To make it even easier for Head Start stakeholders to implement farm to ECE, the National Farm to School Network has created Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education. This new, comprehensive resource aims to promote understanding amongst Head Start stakeholders of how farm to ECE supports achievement of Head Start Program Performance Standards and contributes to learning and development benchmarks as outlined in the Head Start Early Learning Outcomes Framework. Growing Head Start Success is designed with clear, easy to read tables that directly align Program Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework with specific farm to ECE activities from each of the three core elements of local procurement, gardening, and food, agriculture and nutrition education. 

The resource can be used in a variety of ways. For example, if a Head Start program is working on their community wide strategic planning and needs assessment (Part 1302, Subpart A, 1302.11), they can look to Growing Head Start Success and identify at least three farm to ECE focused ways to meet this standard: (1) identify resources for local food access in the community, (2) opportunities to use food-based education to increase family and child nutrition knowledge, or (3) identify community organizations to support onsite and community gardens. Integrating food access and local food resources as a component of community assessment creates a foundation for utilizing local food opportunities to support other standards around family engagement, family support services, and community partnership and coordination. 

In another instance, a Head Start teacher is seeking ways to support vocabulary development (a sub-domain of Language and Communication) for her preschool age students. The teacher can find the “Vocabulary” sub-domain in Growing Head Start Success and see specific farm to ECE activities, books and resources that directly support goals in the “Vocabulary” sub-domain. The teacher chooses a rhyming storybook describing how vegetables grow to help children act out directional and positional words. In choosing a farm to ECE related book, the teacher is not only supporting appropriate development within the domains, but also promoting food knowledge, exposure and acceptance.    
 
The resource also offers three profiles of Head Start programs leading the way in addressing performance and learning standards with farm to ECE. STEP, Inc., of Pennsylvania, Inspire Development Centers of Washington State, and Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties in Minnesota offer these recommendations for integrating farm to ECE in Head Start:

Tips for Farm to ECE in Head Start Success: 

  • Develop a team of staff who can be stewards of the initiative and engage with local partners, such as farmers market managers who can connect ECE programs with local farmers.
  • Start small and experiment with different types of farm to ECE activities to find what works for your community. Grow from those small successes.
  • Focus on building community buy-in and support from many different stakeholders, from the teachers, staff, and parents in the Head Start Program, to local schools or business who can provide promotion and support.
  • Connect with and visit other Head Start programs integrating farm to ECE to better understand opportunities and best practices in implementation. 

To help you share out this exciting new resource, we’ve created a Communications Toolkit with sample social media and blog posts. By promoting this resource widely, we hope that even more Head Start programs choose farm to ECE to meet program and learning standards while providing children, families and communities with the myriad benefits that farm to ECE has to offer. 

The National Farm to School Network is available to provide additional training, customized support and tools for your organization on a consultation basis. To learn more, contact Lacy Stephens, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate, at lacy@farmtoschool.org.

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

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 06, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrate CACFP with Farm to Early Care and Education!

NFSN Staff Monday, March 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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