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Innovations in Farm to CACFP: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program

NFSN Staff Monday, March 15, 2021
By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow

The Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) is often described as the equivalent of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) in ECE settings. Like the NSLP, CACFP is a federal reimbursement for meals and snacks available to child care centers. There is great opportunity to build partnerships between farm to ECE and CACFP, as engaging in farm to ECE not only aligns well with the CACFP meal pattern, but can help centers fulfill CACFP standards through gardening experiences and emphasizing nutritious, local and garden grown foods. This week, starting on Sunday March 14th, is National CACFP Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part one of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series.


How Iowa is Addressing Financial Barriers with a CACFP Incentive Pilot Program

Partners within the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition have been focusing on alleviating the financial barriers of local procurement for CACFP providers through a CACFP incentive pilot program. The pilot, Local Food Makes Cents: For Iowa Kids and Farmers, is funded through a Farm to Early Care and Education Implementation Grant (FIG) awarded from the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN) and offers over $40,000 to eligible centers and home providers participating in CACFP to purchase local foods.

Chelsea Krist, Iowa’s Farm to School Program Coordinator and co-lead on the FIG grant, shared the momentum building in Iowa’s early childhood education programs around local procurement. “There is interest, but the financial barrier can prohibit providers from purchasing local foods often or at all, so this pilot alleviates the risk of trying a new partnership and processing new foods so that financial risk isn’t directly on the provider.”

The coalition is not only piloting a mini grant program, but a new application process as well, prioritizing children enrolled in childcare assistance and sites serving higher numbers of children of color for the first time, a framework they plan to apply to other grants they are leading. “ECE contains the most diverse demographic in Iowa, so we need to be prioritizing that as we keep grants going”, said Krist.

The response to the grant was huge, with many more sites interested than they expected. The coalition was able to grant 120 providers with funding, representing a range of site types and sizes. Grantees are required to spend half of their award on fruits and vegetables and will be purchasing solely from farms, food hubs and farmers markets. The coalition hopes the grant will help build long lasting relationships between farmers and early care providers, with continued outreach and support to keep local food at these sites.

Through conversations with grantees, the coalition has found opportunities to address other barriers providers face and are now looking to allow CACFP or other state funding to be used for gardening tools and reimbursement for plants grown in the centers’ garden. Overall, Krist is looking forward to the opportunities this pilot can build. Ideally, the coalition hopes the program will live beyond the pilot in the Iowa Department of Education and will be state funded for ECE and K-12 sites. Her advice for other states considering a CACFP incentive pilot: “talk to states who have done this before, and know how much time this will take.”

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