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Cultivating healthy habits for our littlest eaters
Farm to School in Early Childhood
Builds Healthy Kids with Bright Futures
Results from a National Survey of Early Care and Education Providers
In 2015, the National Farm to School Network surveyed early care and education providers across the country to better understand their current farm to school initiatives, motivations for applying farm to school and challenges to starting or expanding these activities. We received responses from 1,496 providers serving 183,639 young children in 49 states and Washington D.C. This snowball sampling helps us understand what support is needed to continue to grow these activities.
What did we hear from ECE providers? Farm to school is a critical strategy for early childhood development for two important reasons: health and high-quality learning.
See the survey results and help spread the word that farm to school build healthy kids with bright futures!
Farm to school activities are a natural fit for the 0-5 age group and offer extensive benefits in these young years. Students are exposed to healthy, local foods through meals and snacks, taste tests, lessons, cooking activities, gardening, field trips, farmer visits and more. We use the terms “farm to school” and “farm to early care and education” interchangeably to describe food-based strategies and activities that support healthy development and learning goals in all types of early care and education (ECE) settings (e.g., preschools, child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start/Early Head Start and programs in K-12 school districts).
Farm to school activities not only integrate seamlessly with the learning style of young children, but are also an evidenced-based approach to meeting educational standards and improving the quality of early care and education environments. In addition to promoting health, wellness and high quality learning, farm to school expands healthy food access for our most vulnerable children, encourages family engagement, provides additional market opportunities for farmers and supports thriving communities.
Growing opportunities in early childhood
Nearly 23 percent of children ages 2-5 are overweight or obese in the United States. Not only are these children at higher risk for significant health challenges, social issues and emotional problems, but children who are not well nourished are also not able to function well in school, setting early learners behind at a critical stage of development. Additionally, exposure to poor quality early care and education settings can delay academic, social and emotional development, further reducing school readiness.
With 8 million children spending an average of 33 hours per week in early care and education settings, farm to school has the potential to set up a significant number of young children for success with healthy habits and high quality learning environments.
The National Farm to School Network is working to increase farm to school in early care and education sites across the country. You can help advance farm to early care and education in your community by becoming a member of the National Farm to School Network and connecting with leaders in your region. Find resources and get started below!
As the hub for farm to school information, networking and advocacy, the National Farm to School Network educates early care and education stakeholders at the local, regional and national levels on the opportunities inherent in farm to school for early childhood development. We also train our farm to school partners to be leaders in applying farm to school in early care and education settings, convene national stakeholder groups to increase connectivity among diverse early childhood partners, and advocate for policies that support high quality early care and education and healthy local food systems.
Vision for the future of farm to early care and education (ECE):
Access to healthy, local foods, gardening opportunities, and food-based activities to enhance the quality of the educational experience as the “new normal” in early care and education
All early care and education providers, regardless of geographic location, type of program or socioeconomic status, have the information, resources, and support to successfully implement farm to ECE initiatives
Communication of farm to ECE outcomes and benefits as parallel and aligned with the goals and priorities of the early care and education community
Engagement of a wide variety of stakeholders (e.g., ECE providers, parents, producers, policy makers, state agencies, advocacy and professional development organizations) and sectors (e.g., food systems/supply chain, public health, ECE quality improvement) with the goal of expanding access to healthy, local foods and high quality educational experiences for young children
The National Farm to School Network’s early care and education work is supported in part by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Key resources for farm to early care and education: