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 firstname.lastname@example.org.