As we ring in the New Year, many adults are thinking about changing their unhealthy ways and making more nutritious choices. It’s also an ideal time to consider creative approaches to helping children develop their own lifelong healthy habits. Whether it’s munching local carrots at snack time, growing herbs on the windowsill or reading a favorite garden book, farm to early care and education (F2ECE) offers exciting opportunities to connect young children to healthy local foods and food and agriculture related education.
What is Farm to Early Care and Education?
Farm to ECE is a natural expansion of the successful farm to school movement taking place in K-12 schools across the country. Farm to ECE activities can be adapted to all ECE settings (e.g., family child care homes, child care centers, Head Start, preschools, programs in K-12 school districts). While farm to ECE is implemented differently in every location, it generally includes at least one of these core elements:
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.
Benefits of Farm to ECE
Healthy Habits – Young children are developing taste preferences and eating habits that will impact their health for a lifetime. F2ECE research indicates that repeated exposure to a variety of healthy foods through F2ECE curricula and activities (e.g., taste testing, seasonal foods in meals and snacks, garden fresh nibbles) encourage adventurous eating and greater acceptance of diverse foods.
Creative Learning Opportunities – Farm to ECE activities integrate seamlessly with the learning style of young children while promoting high quality learning environments. Gardening and food related activities capitalize on children’s natural curiosity and encourage them to engage all of their senses. As children get older and prepare for kindergarten, the garden is a perfect place to master important skills like counting, identifying colors and practicing the alphabet.
Triple Win – Farm to ECE is a true “triple win” with benefits that extend beyond children to communities and farmers as well. Families are often motived by a child’s enthusiasm for harvesting fresh vegetables and tasting new foods to make changes in the foods they purchase and serve at home. Many farm to ECE programs even offer special farm to table family events and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) memberships for families to ensure the health and education benefits continue in the home and the economic benefits for farmers and the community are amplified.
Getting Started with Farm to ECE
The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) offers a wide variety of resources to help you take the first steps with farm to ECE. Check out the Getting Started with Farm to Preschool Fact Sheet for more information on starting your own farm to ECE program. For more information on purchasing local foods, take a look at the Local Procurement for Child Care Centers Fact Sheet and the Local Procurement for Family Child Care Fact Sheet. The NFSN resource database houses a wide variety of farm to ECE curricula, gardening information and training resources. For more information or to connect to existing farm to ECE initiatives in your state, contact Lacy Stephens, NFSN Farm to Preschool Associate.
About the National Farm to School Network
The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. NFSN provides important leadership in the farm to school movement to promote and support the development and expansion of farm to school and farm to early care and education at the state, regional and national levels.