Bring Stories Into Farm to School this National Library Week

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021


By Elizabeth Esparza, Communications Intern

April 7-13 is National Library Week, a week to celebrate the opportunities libraries offer to everyone through the free use of books and other resources. Libraries are a natural pairing with farm to school, and the two can work together to connect students everywhere to stories that grow their knowledge of local foods, gardens, agriculture, health, and nutrition.

Here are a list of book ideas that can help strengthen and grow your farm to school activities:

Gardens:
City Green by DyAnne DiSalvo-Ryan: Marcy decides to transform a vacant lot on her block into a vibrant garden that brings her neighborhood together. A positive story about community action and growing spaces in a big city.

Anywhere Farm by Phyllis Root: This fun, rhyming mantra teaches readers that almost anything - a box, a bucket, a boot, or a pan - can be used for growing if you have a seed and someone to plant it!

Our School Garden by Rick Swan: Michael enters his new school feeling lonely, until he discovers his school’s garden, where every season offers new lessons to learn and new friends to make.

Agriculture:
Before We Eat: From Farm to Table by Pat Brisson: This book gives farmers a face, giving readers an introduction to all the work that must be done before food reaches our tables for us to eat.

Food and Farming (Geography for Fun) by Pam Robson: This interactive book provides projects for young readers to think about where food comes from, introducing them to a variety of aspects of the food system, from soil health to food transportation.

Plants Feed Me by Lizzy Rockwell: This book gives students a beautiful introduction to the parts of plants we eat, with easy-to-read labeled diagrams and illustrations!

Nutrition
I Will Never Not Eat a Tomato by Lauren Child: Lola is a picky eater who won’t try new foods until her big brother Charlie makes them more fun and exciting. This story is perfect for picky eaters about the importance of trying new things!

The Perfectly Wonky Carrot by Newmany: Tap Carrotsworth is a strange looking carrot who enters a fruit and vegetable beauty contest to prove there’s nothing wrong with being different. This fun story touches on self-confidence and sustainability, encouraging readers to be themselves and reach for the less-than-perfect foods they see.

Rah, Rah, Radishes!: A Vegetable Chant by April Pulley Sayre: This interactive book celebrates fresh vegetables and the excitement of healthy eating, encouraging kids to get involved and chant along!

Local Foods
To Market, To Market by Nikki McClure: This book follows a mother and son on a trip to their weekly market. Each food they choose is introduced to readers, who learn how each food arrived at the market, from the growing process to the present.

How Did That Get in My Lunchbox?: The Story of Food (Exploring the Everyday) by Chris Butterworth: This book is a great introduction to the steps it takes to produce food, from planting to picking and beyond.

Applesauce Season by Eden Ross Lipson: This story follows one family’s tradition of making applesauce with the first apples of the season. It describes the buying, peeling, cooking, and stirring, introducing students to the cooking process and providing an appreciation for food rituals!

These are just a few of the countless books available to try this National Library Week! Check out these additional lists for even more farm to school story ideas:


Celebrate the Week of the Young Child with Farm to Early Care and Education

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By NFSN Staff; Erin Croom, Georgia Organics; and Kelly Hanson, Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children

The Week of the Young Child (WOYC) is a week-long celebration of our youngest learners and eaters. Hosted by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), WOYC recognizes and celebrates the importance of early care and education (ECE) and the educators, families, and communities that contribute to each young child’s success. NFSN is celebrating  WOYC by sharing the abundant opportunities of farm to ECE to support ECE providers in creating high-quality learning environments and aligning with NAEYC Program Standards. While farm to ECE initiatives are an impactful approach for programs and educators, state-level farm to ECE initiatives can support positive systems level change. The collaboration and state-wide network building opportunities of farm to ECE initiatives can align with AEYC state affiliate strategic plans and goals. State affiliate farm to ECE initiatives and partnerships, like these examples from Georgia and Iowa, demonstrate the power of these partnerships and the benefit to providers, families, and children.  

Farm to ECE Training Delights and Empowers NAEYC Annual Conference Attendees
In 2017, Georgia Organics and Georgia AEYC partnered to host a farm to ECE pre-conference training for NAEYC Annual Conference participants. This workshop served as a fundraiser for the Georgia AEYC affiliate and offered the opportunity to highlight farm to ECE as a strategy to meet programmatic and early learning standards. The six hour training took a deep dive into farm to ECE with 25 participants from across the US and two other countries.

The session started with context setting from Lacy Stephens, National Farm to School Network Program Manager, who gave an overview of farm to ECE research and case studies. Next, participants explored hands-on activities from four of our favorite curriculums: they bravely reached their hand into a mystery bag and described what they felt (USDA’s Grow It, Try It, Like It); they organized toy animals and kitchen supplies (A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum to Support Farm to ECE Models by the Policy Equity Group); they sang a garden song in English and Spanish (Our First Harvest from City Blossoms) and finally tasted a variety of colorful carrots (Harvest for Healthy Kids).  

And of course, they cooked! Participants created three simple and healthy recipes that young children could help make: veggie quesadillas, hummus dip and veggies; and a plant part salad.  The veggie-centered lunch menu highlighted local foods and also met CACFP meal standards! The session wrapped up with a robust discussion on how participants could replicate the training with their program staff, and they shared ideas and recommendations on how to start and grow farm to ECE.


Farm to ECE training attendees use all of their senses to explore a carrot in a lesson from Harvest for Healthy Kids.


Training attendees prepare to share a plant part salad for lunch.


Iowa AEYC and Farm to ECE Partnership Expands Healthy Opportunities
In 2016, the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children (Iowa AEYC) received funds from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation to lay the foundation for farm to ECE across the state of Iowa. They partnered with the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative, an organization that has made gains in community wellness and regional food systems through several touchpoints, including early childhood. Iowa AEYC launched their farm to ECE work by completing an environmental scan, engaging its association members in the process. The scan focused on identifying current healthy food access and physical activity initiatives, identifying gaps in program reach, and interviewing stakeholders on priority needs.

From this, the Farm to ECE Learning Group model was born. Regional cohorts of early childhood educators meet monthly to explore farm to ECE concepts. These educators are given the tools they need to integrate farm to ECE into their ECE settings. Together, the educators also explore ways to engage families in order to drive healthy eating at home. The Farm to ECE Learning Group model emphasizes developmentally appropriate practices and supports the early childhood workforce by making gardening, nutrition education, and local food purchasing manageable within the demands of the early childhood sector today. The most important lesson learned—one size does not fit all. It is important work within the differences in age groups served, funding streams, geographic location, and family background.

Farm to ECE blends seamlessly with the strategic plan of Iowa AEYC. Farm to ECE expands the focal point of the support system around young children. Beyond the parents, and childcare environment to society as a whole. It builds on community resources and partnerships recognizing that hungry, undernourished children are unable to meet their full potential. The program also operates within the affiliate’s core beliefs valuing innovation, transparency, and collaborative relationships.

Learn more about the Week of the Young Child and find ways to celebrate on the NAEYC website. To learn more about connecting farm to ECE and AEYC state affiliates or to get started with farm to ECE, contact Lacy Stephens, NFSN Program Manager, at lacy@farmtoschool.org.


Small Changes Add Up To Big Impacts In ECE Meals

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Tuesday, February 2, 2021

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 Starr Morgan, Executive Director of Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center

“Farm to table is too expensive.”
“I don’t have a commercial kitchen for scratch cooking.”
“I don’t have enough time.”
“The children won’t like the food.”
“The teachers won’t support this.”

These are just a few of the reasons that early care and education programs may be hesitant to change their current meal practices. But what if implementing a farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) meal service doesn’t have to be all or nothing? What if transitioning to local foods is no more expensive than most current food service budgets? What if children love the food, especially the funny colored carrots or purple potatoes?

Over the last 15 years, I have made healthy options for children a priority in the early childhood education programs I have led. I am currently the Executive Director at the Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center, an inner city Reggio Emilia inspired early learning program serving children six weeks to kindergarten. With an ill-equipped, small kitchen I have transformed the food program into one that is locally sourced, providing scratch-made healthy meals for children. I have also transformed the food program at an ECE center with a large commercial-grade kitchen – one where meals were prepared and delivered by an outside source – and even one without a stove or oven! What I have learned is that changes can be made a little at a time or all at once. The budget doesn’t have to increase and a commercial kitchen is not required. Here are some small changes to begin transitioning to meals and snacks that are locally and intentionally sourced, scratch-made, and healthy!

Collaborations are Essential
It is essential that leadership in the program to find value in farm to ECE efforts. The board of directors, program director, kitchen manager and/or any other leadership positions must be on board and support the food service staff. All persons involved in procurement, menu planning, and cooking must also find this work important. Without the support of those making decisions and implementing the menus, the steam quickly pitters out. My first step as a program director included making my case to the executive director by sharing the benefits of transitioning our food service to one that values local, fresh, made-from-scratch healthy meals and snacks. I asked for an increased food budget for three months to track the cost, accessibility, and feasibility to maintain the changes long term. Once permission was granted, planning was essential before beginning the three month test phase.  

A local food hub in my area that supplies food from farms to restaurants at wholesale prices was our first connection. Through West Michigan Farm Link we were able to purchase fresh produce, large blocks of cheeses, yogurt, grass fed beef, non-GMO chicken, and other food items from local farms. A local bakery supplied us with bread and buns at wholesale prices.  

After three months, I learned that with careful planning our budget did not increase as we incorporated local, fresh, food made from scratch!



Time is on Your Side

It is helpful when programs acknowledge that a transition to local food sourcing doesn’t need to happen all at once. Implementing small, meaningful changes helps create sustainability in the long run. Start by identifying what produce can be easily swapped out for healthier or locally sourced versions. Let’s face it – in Michigan (as in many states) the short growing season will never allow us to transition to 100% locally sourced fresh produce. But when things are in season, start by making a few key switches – like fresh green beans instead of canned green beans. Explore participating in a CSA, purchasing from a local food hub, or even growing a center garden. Programs can also connect with local farm-to-table restaurants to ‘buddy up’ with purchasing at wholesale prices. Teaming up with other local businesses can also be helpful, such as a local bakery for slider buns. Taking time to develop relationships can lead to long-term, sustainable procurement opportunities. When identifying sources for procurement, it is helpful to be creative and think outside the ‘farm’!  

Details Matter
If you’re concerned about how procuring local foods might impact your budget, take a detailed look at your current expenses. Consider where you might be able to reduce spending in order to leave room for more local foods. What do you purchase pre-made that can be made from scratch? For example, locally sourced tomatoes and spices can be an easy alternative for pre-made pizza sauce, tomato soup, or spaghetti sauce. If you’re purchasing individually packaged items (snack crackers, raisin boxes, etc.), considering swapping to bulk packaging and use the savings for local food. Changing purchasing patterns can be an easy way to reduce waste, save money, and reallocate funds to healthier, local food.

When leadership is on board, there are many steps programs can take to start the process of transitioning to a farm to ECE food service. Research tells us that providing a variety of healthy meals and snacks at a young age has lifelong benefits including the development of healthy lifestyles and greater school success. Involve leadership, start small, and connect with your community!  

Starr Morgan is the Executive Director of the Grand Rapids Early Discovery Center. She has worked in early childhood education for 22 years and has focused efforts in promoting healthy eating habits in young children for 13 years. Starr believes that when provided a large variety of healthy meals and snacks at a very young age, children can develop healthy habits that last a lifetime!