October is National Farm to School month. You may have heard the terms Farm to Market, Farm to Table and even Farm to Preschool, but what do they mean and why is it important? Simply put, these are all terms or programs that mean using locally grown food that can easily and quickly be brought to market. Farm to Preschool is part of the National Farm to School program and includes early childhood programs like family child care in its mission. Using this concept in family child care can have many meanings for the children in our programs. Fresh vegetables and fruit are more nutritious. Locally grown gives us an opportunity to teach children about where and how food is grown, as well as helping them to understand which foods are good for their bodies.
Let’s think about some of the ways to use the concept in family child care homes.
Help the children look for farms in your area; what foods are grown there? Are the foods some they have eaten at home? Research ahead of time and have real pictures available for the children to look at. Why not use a graph to see how many of the foods have been tried and which ones the children like best?
Going to a farm is not always an option, but is there a local pumpkin farm where you can take the children for a tour? Let each child take a notebook and pencil to draw or write what they are seeing. What foods do they see? How do the foods grow? Do they grow on top of the ground or below? Are there other foods that don’t grow in the ground? If the farm has chickens you might show them where the chickens live and lay their eggs. Taking some food back to your child care home will create other new opportunities for the children. Now only will they know where the foods grew, but they can feel them, smell them, taste them raw and try them in new recipes.
If going on a field trip to a pumpkin farm is not an option maybe a trip to the local market is. Is there a “farmers’” market you could visit? How did the food get to these places? Was it brought by car, bus, truck, bicycle? This is an excellent opportunity to talk about where these foods grow and how they get from the ground or farm to the market. There are many different activities you can use with the Farm to Market experience.
How long would it take to grow some of the vegetables? Depending on the time of year, start early and have the children plant some seeds. Keep a log of what happens during the growth and development of each plant. Just like children, plants need to be taken care of, nurtured and fed in order to grow. Caring for the plants and watching them grow can be a bit much for the younger children, but can teach the older ones the importance of caring for things and watching them grow into something that can make them healthy. You may have to do a majority of the work for the younger ones, but when the vegetables are grown enough to pick they will be delighted and all will reap the benefits of your "seed to table" project!
However you go about working with children to learn healthy eating habits, this is one project that will help to ensure their good health and eating habits for the rest of their lives!
Included with this article is a list of books that would be appropriate for use when talking to children about this important topic. Having books available that are related to food and nutrition can help create an enhanced learning environment for even the youngest of children.
Remember, BUY FRESH! BUY LOCAL!
- Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert
- Growing Vegetable Soup by Lois Ehlert
- Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson
- A Day at the Market by Sara Anderson
- Curious George Farm to Table by H.A. Rey
- Food From Farms by Nancy Dickman
- At the Farmer’s Market with Kids: Recipes and Projects for Little Hands by Ethel Brennan and Leslie Jonat