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Growing Healthy Eaters in Georgia

NFSN Staff Thursday, July 11, 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 lacy@farmtoschool.org.


Children enjoying a radish taste test at Tee Tee’s Daycare in Valdosta, Georgia. Photo courtesy of Kim Jackson, owner of Tee Tee’s Daycare .

Guest Blog By Gina Cook, Quality Care for Children

Beans, squash, cucumbers, and tomatoes are just a sampling of the many fruits and vegetables that grow in Georgia. Because Georgia’s climate allows tremendous opportunities for farmers, just about any crop can be grown successfully somewhere within the state.

However, many children grow up in Georgia not knowing where their food comes from and how it is grown. Many childcare providers may have limited access to fresh, healthy, locally grown foods and serve only canned or frozen fruits and vegetables.  

In 2017, the formation of the Georgia Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative was made possible by a generous grant from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Eighteen early care providers across the state were selected to receive mini grants, resources, materials, training, and professional development opportunities to incorporate farm to ECE activities, including gardening, local procurement, and nutrition education. Here are some of the take-aways and lessons learned from the Learning Collaborative's activities. 

Overcoming Barriers to Eating Local Foods
Limited Access to Local Foods
One would think since farming is the foundation of the state’s economic well-being, there would be more locally grown produce in the stores. However, this was not always the case and providers needed support to find out where to purchase local foods. The Georgia Grown website has been helpful in identifying what is in season and finding farms and locations to purchase local foods. 

Time
Local farm stands are usually only open certain hours during the day or on the weekends. Family childcare providers cannot get away during the day since they are usually the only ones caring for the children and weekends are filled with family commitments. So running to the grocery store, which stays open late, may be the only option. Some providers have been able to find local products at the grocery stores they frequent and others have focused their attention on the foods they can grow in the garden and serve on-site as first steps for serving local foods.

Cost
The childcare providers were concerned that children would waste the food, especially if it was more expensive to purchase. Offering exposures to new foods through taste tests and gardening increase children’s acceptance of new foods and can help decrease food waste. A few of the sites have been creative in their purchasing practices to help address costs. One site was able to purchase marked-down produce by developing a relationship with a local farmer. 

Preparation
Many of the providers have commented on the time involved in the preparation of fresh, local foods.  They must spend more time washing, cutting, and cooking. It was much easier for them to open up a can or put frozen vegetables in the microwave. Several of the sites have struggled with knowing what foods to purchase, especially when it comes to picky eaters, and how to prepare. Choosing foods that are easy to prepare and broadly appealing to little ones, like cherry tomatoes, snap-peas, and strawberries, can be one initial way to overcome this challenge.  Spoilage has been a main concern since fresh food tends to go bad much quicker.  However, one provider has purchased a food storage vacuum system that allows her to freeze what she grows or purchases.  

Local Food Successes 
Gardening
All of the providers in the Learning Collaborative have planted a garden with a variety of vegetables.  Some are able serve these at meals and snacks and invite families to come and experience first-hand the garden.  Parents have shared that their children’s excitement and pride in their gardens is contagious.  Not only are the children more likely to try fruits and vegetables if they participate in the growing process, but the parents are too!  One parent remarked, “I am learning to eat red pepper because my son is eating it at school.”  

Family Engagement
The participants of the Learning Collaborative agree that behaviors around food are difficult to change.  Some of the providers have commented that getting their families to try new foods has come with some resistance.  To address this issue, providers welcome parents to cook and participate in a taste test with the children. Providers also offer dishes with familiar flavor profiles that go well will family staples like beans and rice eaten by Hispanic families served by the childcare site.  Some of the gardens produce an abundance of vegetables and the sites have given some to the families in their care along with a simple recipe to make at home. 

Despite the challenges, all of the providers agree that the successes outweigh the barriers. Children are enjoying gardening and eating what they grow.  They try more foods and actually like them! They can even tell you how seeds grow!  This enthusiasm has spread to the families at the sites and now families are becoming more aware of what they are serving at home.  One provider tells the story of the little girl who ASKS for salad now!  

You can hear more about local procurement in family child care in Georgia from Gina and family child care owner, Maria Claudia Ortega, in this NFSN webinar, Farm to Early Care and Education in Family Child Care.  

Bottom photo: Families love working in the garden together! Photo courtesy of Maria Claudia Ortega, owner of My Little Geniuses in Marietta, GA

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