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Harvesting the Benefits of Hydroponics: Highlights from the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project

NFSN Staff Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Preschoolers getting ready to taste their hydroponically-grown lettuce. Source: San Pedro Elementary, San Rafael, California, March 2020 Final Survey
By Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate

National Farm to School Network in partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation and collaboration with KidsGardening is excited to release Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. This lesson guide is the product of the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project and includes basic how-to information for growing plants hydroponically in the classroom, lesson plans to help students learn through hands-on investigations, construction plans for simple hydroponic setups, and additional reference materials to support educators. The lessons are designed to align with third through fifth grade Next Generation Science Standards but can be adapted for both younger and older students and those with different abilities. The lessons are sequenced so that each topic builds upon the previous topics but the activities can also be used independently, in any order.

The Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project, launched in the fall of 2019, was aimed at integrating indoor hydroponics growing systems into systemically under resourced schools across the country. National Farm to School Network supported hydroponics experts, KidsGardening, in developing the curriculum guide, Exploring Hydroponics: A Classroom Lesson Guide. During the 2019-2020 school year, the curriculum was used in conjunction with Scotts Miracle-Gro’s AeroGarden hydroponic kits in 15 schools across California, New York and Washington D.C. In addition to introducing hydroponics into their science, technology engineering and math (STEM) classrooms, pilot schools participated in peer learning and networking calls to share successes and challenges with each other.

“The grow station is the shining light in an amazing space. It draws visitors to it and opens up conversation about what we do at FoodPrints and Kimball. The students love to talk about it. Thank you for letting us participate!” -Kimball Elementary School, Washington, D.C.
Between the 2018-2019 and the 2019-2020 school year, there was an overall increase in both engagement of students in garden-based activities as well as the total number of students reached by gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Standards as a direct result of the hydroponics system and curriculum.

By March 2020, a total of 2204 students were reached through the pilot project with gardening or farm to school activities that align with Next Generation Science Standards across New York, Washington D.C., and California, and 1954 students were directly engaged in lessons or activities using the hydroponics growing system. Additionally, between September 2019 and March 2020, there was a perceived 20% increase in student interest and a 15% increase in adult interest (teachers, administration, teaching aides, community members) in gardening as a direct result of the hydroponics system and Exploring Hydroponics curriculum.

“The Exploring Hydroponics guide has really been a huge asset to our science curriculum.” -Amidon-Bowen Elementary, Washington, D.C.

Pilot schools cited many observed benefits and positive outcomes due to the hydroponics curriculum and growing systems for students, families and adults in their respective school communities. These include:

Benefits for Students  Benefits for Students, Families, Educators and Community Members
  • Interest and knowledge of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts
  • Increased demonstration of social-emotional development (e.g., cooperation, empathy, self-regulation)
  • Access to fresh fruits and vegetables 
  • Increased engagement
  • Improved attitudes, knowledge and behaviors
  • Improved knowledge about gardening, agriculture and food systems 


Teacher, Helene, leads students in exploring the hydroponics garden and learning about how far away their food comes from. Source: P.S. 32 The Belmont School, New York, January 2020 Site Visit
When schools began closing in March, some pilot schools were able to pivot and continue hydroponics and gardening learning at home. At Kimball Elementary, the FoodPrints teacher has encouraged kids to find bean or vegetable seeds, wrap them in damp paper towels, insert into a plastic bag, tape to a window with lots of sunlight and observe daily for germination. At other schools, teachers were able to take the hydroponics units home and update students remotely through online meetings and photos. The Exploring Hydroponics guide offers many remote-adaptable lessons and at-home opportunities including how to build an aeration system at home, map your meals explorations, exploring land use worksheets, discussion questions and digging deeper videos.

“I documented the plants before we left school, transplanted them with students into soil and we are studying how they are growing at home now via live meetings and pictures. Students have been engaged in a "regrow" vegetables from scratch lesson, and have shared amazing results of starting vegetables in water with scraps they normally would've thrown out.” –P.S. 32, The Belmont School, Bronx, NY
National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation learned a lot from the schools as they piloted and adapted the Exploring Hydroponics curriculum, troubleshooted the AeroGarden grow kit, and brought the hydroponics learning experience to life for their students. By all measures, the Gro More Good Hydroponics Pilot Project has been a success: there was an overall increase in student and family engagement in gardening and farm to school activities as a direct result of the hydroponics growing system and curriculum. While the benefits and positive outcomes are substantial, opportunities for growth have also emerged:

Strategies for better curriculum integration of opportunities to encourage at-home hydroponics and gardening
  • Adapting curriculum for younger ages
  • More opportunities to support sustained implementation (e.g., to purchase pods and other necessary resources)
  • Incorporating more multimedia tools or approaches within curriculum (e.g., instructional video)
  • Collecting and disaggregating data based on race and income (e.g., which students are more likely to have access to gardening at home?)
  • More opportunities to engage families

Students giving presentations to their classmates about hydroponics. Source: P.S. 214, Bronx, New York, March 2020 Final Survey
National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation are excited to see how schools continue to use their hydroponic curriculum and systems in the upcoming school year, whatever that may look like, and beyond. We know students increased their understanding of where their food comes from, the environmental impacts of growing food in soil versus water, their access to fresh produce, and we can’t wait to see these benefits grow. 

Our Top Tips from 12+ Years of Remote Working

NFSN Staff Monday, March 23, 2020

By National Farm to School Network Staff

National Farm to School Network staff are experts in many things… including remote work! Since launching in 2007, NFSN has been a remote-based organization, with the majority of our staff working in home offices from coast to coast and many places in between. At this time, when we know many people with the ability to be able to work from home are being asked to do so, we’d like to offer up some of the tried and tested strategies we use to do our work as a remote team every day. It’s a small gesture in this unprecedented situation, but we hope that these tips might be helpful to those of you who are joining us for the first time in the “work from home” world these coming days and weeks. 

Get dressed (really). For some of you, my advice may be laughably obvious. Whereas others (including some of my co-workers) may feel that I am dead wrong: don’t spend all day working in your pajamas. Take a shower. Shave (if that applies). Put on regular clothes. Regular clothes can mean something as simple as shorts and a t-shirt, but don’t work all day in pajamas or a bathrobe. This basic level of preparedness will help focus you on the work day ahead. -Scott Bunn, Development Director (North Carolina)

Create a dedicated work space. Working in your living space can present some challenges, perhaps most commonly the uncomfortable blurring of lines between the two. I’ve found it helpful to have a dedicated work space that I stick to. I’m lucky to have a specific room for my home office. But, this could also be a desk in a bedroom or your dining room table. I’ve never had success working from the couch, but that might work for you, too! Wherever you set up shop, create a space that will put you in a work mindset. When you sit down in the spot, you’re working. And when you walk away from it, you’re not. If you’re like me, you’ll want to avoid working in the kitchen - it prompts too many snack attacks! -Anna Mullen, Communications Director (Iowa)

Pick up the phone. Email, G-chat, and Slack are all great ways to stay connected and share information with your team. But it’s easy to get stuck in a virtual world and many decisions and conversations are just made easier by talking it out. One five minute phone call can save many back and forth emails and there is the bonus of actual human interaction. A quick work or social chat can brighten your day and remind you that you are not in this alone. -Lacy Stephens, Senior Program Manager (Missouri)

Schedule time for movement. When I first started working remotely I had this fantasy that I would take multiple mini-exercise breaks throughout the day and I pictured myself in peak physical form. That might work great for some but I believe you still have to schedule it in! I find it's way too easy to push off those mini-breaks if you're engaged in a project, so now I try to exercise first thing in the morning before starting my work day. If I can get extra time for breaks throughout the day that's even better but at least I've already done something active. Also a standing desk setup is super easy to fashion out of all kinds of props you probably have laying around your home, or I have this super affordable and convertible option that helps me quickly switch setups so that I am not just sitting all day. -Tracey Starkovich, Operations and Events Manager (Illinois)

Get outside! The best part of working from home is being able to step outside as time permits, such as walking during a phone call or tending your garden while mulling over a major decision. I personally recommend pulling weeds to work out frustration or resolve a problem! You may not be able to connect with co-workers face-to-face, but connecting with the land is an excellent way to feel whole. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Make yourself lunch – and eat it away from your work area. If you're working on the couch, eat at a table. If you're working at a table, eat on your couch. I often eat my lunch standing up in the kitchen or followed by a short walk around the block. Taking mandatory breaks to enjoy food and giving your body and mind a change of scenery is key to maintaining focus during critical work hours - and feeling motivated to get up and do it all again the next day! -Jenileigh Harris, Program Associate (Colorado)

Feedback is critical. Working in an office provides for multiple opportunities for feedback including both verbal and non verbal cues that are necessary for moving projects along. When you are home working alone, you may find yourself wondering if you’ve completed a task as expected or if your work overall is up to par. Supervisors should take more care to give employees feedback on their work, and employees need to feel empowered to speak up about their questions and needs. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Set boundaries, and stick to them. When you work from home, it’s easy to let work creep into your home life. A good way to mitigate the constant feeling of being on (and not letting that actually happen) is to set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t just map out your work time, calls, and projects. Also map out when you’re going to exercise, eat lunch, take breaks, and end your workday. Build in time to take care of yourself. Turn off notifications during your off hours. And remember that if you don’t stick to this, it has a ripple effect on your colleagues. Ultimately, we cannot show up as our best selves at work if we do not take care of ourselves as whole people, where work is but one part of who we are. -Helen Dombalis, Executive Director (Colorado)

Monitor morale. In general, and especially while we are feeling the impacts of COVID-19, it’s important to keep a pulse on staff morale. Working remotely can create new and exacerbate existing morale issues. Make dedicated space to address staff concerns on an ongoing basis, whether it be through group video meetings, HR services or one-on-one check ins. -Jessica Gudmundson, Senior Director of Finance and Operations (Georgia)

Working from home has its benefits too! #1 - flexibility! Don’t hold yourself to unnecessary rules and take advantage of your new work environment. Enjoy having your dog, cat or other pet keep you company during the day. Enjoy more casual office attire. Enjoy moving and stretching throughout the day without feeling self conscious, because no one is watching. Enjoy taking some of your calls al fresco. We find that the more flexible we are with our time and resources, the better we perform.

We know that there are millions of American who are not able to transition their work to the dining room table - including many who work in the food and school systems. This health crisis has put a spotlight on the many inequities in our current economic system that have shown these members of our communities to be disproportionately impacted. Here are some ways you can support them, too

Need more ideas for successful remote working? Drop us a note! We’re happy to help in whatever ways we can. 

2019 Fall Funding Opportunities for Farm to School

NFSN Staff Thursday, September 12, 2019

The beginning of a new school year is a great time to consider starting or ramping up farm to school activities in your community. From planting seeds in a school garden to local food procurement in the cafeteria, there are numerous ways to engage in farm to school and get kids excited about fresh, healthy food. If you’re new to farm to school, check out our getting started resources: 

Looking for funding options to help kickoff or expand your farm to school efforts? Here are several fall funding opportunities to explore:

Green Education Foundation Green Thumb Challenge Grant
Deadline: September 30

Native American Agriculture Fund Grants
Deadline: September 30

Clif Bar Family Foundation Small Grants
Deadline: October 1

The Herb Society of America Classroom Herb Garden Grants
Deadline: October 1

Target Field Trip Grants
Deadline: October 1

American Heart Association Teaching Gardens Network Grant Program
Deadline: October 11

National Head Start Association Gro More Good Garden Grants
Deadline: October 11

The Bee Cause Project Bee Grants
Deadline: October 15

Whole Kids Foundation School Garden, Beehive and Salad Bar Grants
Deadline: October 15

Chef Ann Foundation Get Schools Cooking Grants
Deadline: October 28 

Annie’s Grants for Gardens
Deadline: November 1  

Klorane Botanical Foundation Budding Botanist Grant
Deadline: November 8

Find more ideas for supporting your farm to school activities in our Funding Farm to School factsheet. Stay tuned to our This Week in Farm to School blogs, posted every Tuesday, for more farm to school funding, resources and engagement opportunities.

New Local Food Purchasing Guide from NC Cooperative Extension

NFSN Staff Wednesday, June 19, 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.



Guest blog by Dara Bloom and Caroline Stover

Are you ready to purchase local food for your center, but you don’t know where to start? 

We are excited to share a new resource from the Kellogg-funded Farm to Early Care and Education project in North Carolina all about local food purchasing! This NC Cooperative Extension publication will be useful for child care centers and technical assistance providers who are trying to figure out the best way to purchase local food for meals and snacks for their centers. We based this publication off of the experiences of the 12 child care centers in 10 counties that participated in the North Carolina Center for Environmental Farming Systems’ Farm to ECE project in 2017. Working with these centers, we found that there was no “one size fits all” answer to how to most easily purchase local food for meals and snacks. Each center completed a self-assessment to determine what was most important to them, and used new or existing partnerships within their community to figure out what local food options were available to them. The result was a variety of different ways to purchase local food, depending on their priorities and local context.

It can be hard to provide guidance to centers and technical assistance providers about local food purchasing when it depends so much on their context and what their priorities are, but we took what these centers learned and created a short guide that walks you step-by-step through what to think about as you start to purchase local food. Here are some highlights of the tips and resources that we share:

How do you define “local”? 
Since there’s no set definition for local, we encourage centers to first think about what they value most about purchasing local food to help them create a definition. It’s also a good idea to engage parents and staff in determining what will count for local for you. For example, you might want to stick with farmers within your community, or you might feel comfortable with a more regional definition or statewide. Some centers choose to support certain types of farmers with their purchases based on race or gender. Whatever you choose, make sure you communicate your definition to your community and your vendors.

What local food option is best for you?
We’ve developed a decision tree along with a description of several different types of vendors who sell local food to help you decide which vendor works best for you based on your capacity, needs, and preferences. The decision tree asks you to consider whether you need food for meals or just snacks and taste tests, how many children are in your center, what your storage capacity is, and whether you want to have a direct relationship with your farmer or you’re comfortable working through a third party to purchase local food. For centers who don’t want to create a new purchasing account, we encourage them start where they already purchase, whether that’s a distributor or grocery store. But remember, purchasing local food is going to require some relationship-building and investment no matter what vendor you choose!



How can you expand the market for local farmers?
Sometimes centers order very small volumes of produce, especially when they choose to start small and only need enough for snacks or taste tests. While this is a great strategy to help centers get their feet wet with local food purchasing and integrate it into their kitchens and classrooms, these small volumes aren’t enough to support a farmer in the long run. In addition, farmers may not want to go out of their way to deliver a small volume, since it doesn’t make much sense for them economically. However, there are a lot of ways that you can work to help make the market more profitable. For example, if you can work with other centers and place orders together, you can order higher volumes. Don’t forget that you can also advertise to parents and staff as another potential market. This may mean offering your center as a CSA drop-off point (Community Supported Agriculture, see https://www.localharvest.org/csa/ for more information).  It can also help a farmer if you advertise who you purchase from so that parents can look for those farmers in other markets. Finally, consider talking to your local farmer about purchasing “seconds”, or smaller sized products that they might have a hard time selling in other markets.

To see the full guide and the decision tree, as well as other resources, check out: go.ncsu.edu/f2ecelocalfoodpurchasing.

New Policy Handbook for Farm to School Advocates

NFSN Staff Thursday, June 13, 2019


Farm to school legislation is a key strategy for making local food procurement, school gardens, and food education a reality for millions of children, farmers, and communities across the country. That’s why state farm to school policy, alongside statewide farm to school networks and state-supported farm to school positions, is one of the three core strategies National Farm to School Network prioritized in our 2017-2019 Strategic Plan to help partners advance and strengthen the farm to school movement in their states. We’re excited to share a new resource to help partners and advocates in these efforts: the State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2018

Co-authored by the National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School, the State Farm to School Policy Handbook summarizes and analyzes every proposed farm to school bill and resolution introduced between January 1, 2002, and December 31, 2018, from the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. territories. It enables users to search bills by both jurisdiction and topic, and includes analysis of trends, case studies, advocacy resources and more.

What’s new in this edition? 
The State Farm to School Policy Handbook: 2002-2018 builds on a survey that was originally released in 2011, and updated in 2013, 2014 and 2017, and was previously called the State Farm to School Legislative Survey. New features in this edition include: new research, with farm to school policies from the U.S. territories; new scope, taking a targeted look at legislation that explicitly advances the core elements of farm to school; and, a new name, which better describes the robust content – including case studies, best practices, analysis and more – available in this resource. 

What are the highlights? 
Between January 1, 2002 and December 31, 2018:
  • 46 states, DC, and one territory have introduced legislation supporting farm to school activities. 
  • 453 bills and resolutions were introduced. Of those, 209 passed.   
  • The most common bill type has been one that provides funding for farm to school - 119 such bills have been introduced. These bills include annual appropriations, permanent funds, and other revenue streams. 
  • 25 states have passed comprehensive farm to school legislation, which includes funded grant programs, funded coordinator positions, or funded local procurement incentives. 
  • Best practices for structuring strong legislation include securing sustained funding, identifying the motivation behind the bill, and establishing an evaluation process. 


How can advocates use the Handbook? 
The time is ripe to leverage relationships and advocate to expand farm to school through state legislation, and the State Farm to School Policy Handbook is a valuable tool you can use to approach policy in ways that makes sense for your state. Whether your state is still working to pass its first farm to school legislation or ready to expand, you can use this Handbook to gain knowledge of the wide variety of farm to school policy options that exist and find inspiration and models that can be adapted to meet your states needs. The Handbook also allows you to compare your state’s farm to school laws, policies and programs to those of other states. And, check out the five case studies that analyze successful farm to school advocacy efforts and compare how different states have tackled farm to school policy opportunities with different approaches. These case studies provide a great snapshot of the stories and partnerships behind successful policy efforts – use them as a spark of inspiration to motivate your next policy idea! 

State-level farm to school policy work is driving a broader expansion of farm to school across the country. Simply put, strong laws facilitate strong programs. The State Farm to School Policy Handbook is designed to offer farm to school advocates like you a roadmap to learn about and compare existing, potentially replicable state farm to school laws, policies and programs in order to advance new legislation in your state. So dig in, and start exploring the opportunities! 

Have questions about this new resource or need a thought partner on how to connect with your state lawmakers? Don’t hesitate to contact our Policy team for support! We look forward to hearing how your advocacy efforts continue to grow the farm to school movement, state by state.

The State Farm to School Handbook: 2002-2018 is co-written by National Farm to School Network and the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems at Vermont Law School (CAFS). This project is funded by the National Agricultural Library,
Agricultural Research Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Farm to School and National Agriculture in the Classroom

NFSN Staff Monday, May 20, 2019
By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern


Food and agriculture education is a core element of farm to school and is vital to developing comprehensive and impactful farm to school programs. The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization (NAITCO) and its member state programs, such as the Healthy Communities of the Capital Area (HCCA) in Maine, provide K-12 teachers with educational resources and programs that use agricultural concepts to teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, and more. 

Education is a priority area for farm to school, making NAITCO and HCCA natural and ideal partners for increasing farm to school efforts at both the national and state level. The National Agriculture in the Classroom Organization is a national nonprofit aimed at working in K-12 education to increase agricultural literacy, the ability to understand and communicate the source and value of agriculture as it affects our quality of life. They work with agriculture programs in most of the 50 states and D.C. to provide resources and standards-based lesson plans and activities. In 2017 alone, NAITCO reached 7.3 million students and 118,000 teachers in K-12, and uses their state partnerships and national conference to demonstrate agriculture related lessons to K-12 classroom teachers from around the US.

Florida Agriculture in the Classroom (FAITC), in partnership with the Florida Nutrition and Wellness Program works to increase agriculture education by holding teacher workshops together throughout the state.FAITC demonstrates K-12 lessons and activities, while FNW’s Chef Paula talks about food and garden harvest, safety, and demonstrates simple recipes that teachers can prepare in the classroom. Together, the two organizations partner to hold a statewide recipe contest to further promote each groups’ programs and increase agricultural education throughout Florida.

Maine Agriculture in the Classroom (MAITC), a part of the Maine Department of Agriculture, works to promote the understanding of agriculture and natural resources among students, educators, and the general public. MAITC works closely with Maine Farm to School Network (MFSN) to further increase the reach of the resources, trainings, and conferences available to teachers. MAITC offers grant support to teachers for a broad range of farm to school activities, which provide teachers with training and resources to help start and maintain school gardens, bring agriculture activities to their classrooms, and attend conferences

In addition to helping educators attend the MFSN conference, MAITC works to increase access to resources that enhance farm to school activities in their classrooms and schools. The Read ME Ag program enlists volunteers to read a new book written each year about Maine agriculture.

To learn more about the opportunities and benefits of partnerships between agriculture in the classroom and farm to school, watch a recording of our May 2019 Trending Topics Webinar: Farm to School and National Agriculture in the Classroom.

FoodSpan: Teaching the food system farm to fork

NFSN Staff Monday, March 11, 2019

Guest post by Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future

While public interest in where our food comes from continues to grow, there is a dearth of resources available for teaching young people about the food system. That’s a key reason the FoodSpan curriculum created by the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future has hit the mark with a lot of educators, especially those teaching social studies, science, and family and consumer sciences, but also health and language arts.

As of March 1, FoodSpan lesson plans had been downloaded nearly 57,000 times. This free online curriculum contains 17 lesson plans that span the food system from production through consumption and also includes lessons on food waste, food safety and food policy. It culminates with a food citizen action project, which gives students an opportunity to put their new knowledge to work by designing an intervention to address a food system problem.

“FoodSpan provides the materials and lessons necessary for our students to investigate critical issues surrounding public health, equity in food resources, sustainability, and the environment,” said Mike Wierzbicki, a social studies teacher at North County High School in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. “The lesson plans are filled with tremendous visuals that capture student attention and promote a deep understanding of material.”

FoodSpan dovetails well with the work of the National Farm to School Network, which works to empowers children and their families to make informed food choices.

This inquiry-based curriculum is designed for high school students but has been frequently adapted for use at both higher and lower education levels. It is written at a ninth-grade reading level. FoodSpan lessons also align with national education standards including NGSS, NCSS, CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy, and NHES.

Teachers can use FoodSpan in its entirety, or pick and choose lessons they think will be most relevant or engaging for their students. The most downloaded lesson is the introductory “Exploring Our Food System.” It gets students thinking about food in a systemic way, for example by following food items through the supply chain, and by looking at relationships among myriad players in the food system, including people, institutions, and natural resources. Lessons on crops and on the industrialization of agriculture are also among the most popular.

The curriculum includes 140 activities, including 62 extension activities. Among many other things, students are challenged to:

  • Assess the food environment in their school
  • Create food maps
  • Devise educational and advertising campaigns
  • Develop presentations for policy makers
  • Investigate a foodborne illness outbreak
  • Debate controversial food system topics
  • Journal about their personal views after each lesson
  • Produce art projects (e.g., posters, infographics, videos)
  • Watch and discuss food-related films
Teachers who want to get up to speed on a food system topic before presenting it to their students can benefit from CLF’s Food System Primer, which offers short readings on many topics, along with links to further reading. Teachers can also point students to this resource, particularly if they have been assigned to write a report on a food system topic.

CLF also maintains a Food System Lab in a Baltimore greenhouse, providing “real-world examples of solutions to these pressing issues” in the food system, as Wierzbicki put it. The Lab uses its aquaponics and composting projects as jumping-off points to discuss larger food system topics.

The Center for a Livable Future (CLF) has been a leader in “food system thinking” for more than 20 years. CLF teaches about the food system, both at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and through online courses available to the public. It has produced a textbook called Introduction to the U.S. Food System: Public Health, Environment, and Equity.

Learn more about the FoodSpan curriculum here.

Farm to ECE in Family Child Care

NFSN Staff Wednesday, February 20, 2019
By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

Farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) is a group of strategies and activities that offer increased access to healthy, local foods, gardening opportunities, and food-based activities to enhance the quality of educational experience, while also expanding healthy food access and family engagement. Nearly one quarter of children spend time in family child care homes before they reach kindergarten. Because farm to ECE adapts readily to diverse settings and ages and abilities of children, farm to ECE is a great fit for family child care homes. 

In North Carolina, the Wake County Smart Start Farm to Child Care program is a collaboration of multiple organizations that work together to support child care facilities in Wake County that serve low-income families and children. The Farm to Child Care program supports ECE providers, children, and families in accessing  healthy, nutritious food. Comprised of Wake County Smart Start, Advocates for Health in Action, NC Cooperative Extension, and Shape NC, the Farm to Child Care program works together to support the almost 170 family child care home facilities in the county.

The program holds training to help child care providers better understand how to use what’s in season and to give them the skills to be able to move from canned to fresh and local food. Because family child care facilities don’t buy their food in large quantities, the Farm to Child Care program’s training focuses on diverse ways that family child care providers can obtain local foods, including directly from a local farmer and from an onsite garden. Overall, the program focuses on trainings that encourage family child care home facilities that want to focus on healthy living to make their programs holistic, incorporating the core elements of farm to ECE - local procurement, gardens, and food and nutrition education -  into multiple aspects of their program. 

In 2017, grants from the WK Kellogg Foundation brought together five organizations to form the Georgia Farm to ECE Learning Collaborative. Comprised of Georgia Organics, Quality Care for Children, Little Ones Learning Center, Voices for Georgia’s Children, and The Common Market, the collaborative partnership works to provide mini grants, free resources, materials, training, and professional development opportunities to early care providers interested in incorporating farm to ECE activities into their ECE environments, including educational activities and  meal services. 

Of the 18 Learning Collaborative sites throughout Georgia, eight are family child care homes. With support from the learning collaborative, these family child care homes create farm to ECE action plans, and receive on-site technical assistance in classrooms, training and professional development, menu consultation, and other resources to utilize in their programs. The Learning Collaborative sites are able to use the mini grants they receive to pay for books, materials, and professional development, offering them the opportunity to implement successful farm to ECE strategies into their programs.

Jackson Child Care uses their Farm to Table program to ensure that their children are ready for kindergarten, recognizing that 3-5 year olds are at the perfect age to use farm to ECE activities to align with standards. With the Creative Curriculum© as a foundation , the Farm to Table program uses farm to ECE activities to meet Virginia’s early learning standards for math, language/reading, art, and physical and cognitive development. A large part of Jackson Child Care’s program involves bringing the children out in the community and using community connections to help children learn about their food system and gain support and resources to make Farm to Table successful. Through field trips to local grocery stores and farmers markets, children are able to see and hear where their food comes from and interact with the people who grow and sell their food.

To learn more about the opportunities and benefits of farm to ECE in family child care homes, watch a recording of our February 2019 Trending Topics Webinar: Farm to Early Care and Education in Family Child Care.  Also check out USDA Team Nutrition's new version of it's popular Grow It, Try It, Like It! nutrition education materials, specifically for family child care homes. The resource has been updated and customized with posters, fruit and vegetable cards and recipes for for use by family child care homes. Download the resource here. Learn more about farm to ECE and Creative Curriculum© in Policy Equity Group’s A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum to Support Farm to ECE Models

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