Celebrate CACFP with Farm to Early Care and Education!

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

While we aim to celebrate great nutrition for kids all year round, this week, we have a special reason to cheer. March 12 – 18 is National CACFP Week, a week devoted to raising awareness of how the USDA's Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) works to combat hunger and bring healthy foods to the table for adults in day care and children in child care homes, centers, and in afterschool and summer feeding programs across the country. CACFP provides approximately 1.9 billion meals and snacks to over 3.3 million children every day. Studies show children who participate in CACFP programs have healthier eating patterns and are less likely to be overweight. CACFP may even contribute to reduced household food insecurity. There are so many reasons to celebrate this important program!

Farm to early care and education (ECE) activities – including local procurement, gardening, and food-based education – offer valuable opportunities to support success in CACFP. In 2017, new CACFP meal patterns will go into effect that require programs to serve a greater variety of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains and lower sugar foods. Farm to ECE experiences, like taste tests, cooking activities and gardening, can encourage children to taste and accept new, diverse foods. Serving local and seasonal foods is even identified as a best practice in USDA’s “Child and Adult Care Food Program Meal Pattern Revision: Best Practices.”  

The National Farm to School Network and ECE stakeholders will continue the celebration of CACFP when we convene for the National CACFP Conference in San Diego, Calif., April 18-20, 2017. Farm to ECE educational opportunities are highlighted throughout the conference schedule, ensuring even more CACFP sponsors and ECE stakeholders will take home resources, information and know-how to spread farm to ECE opportunities across the country. The National Farm to School Network will kick off the conference week by offering a preconference training session in partnership with the United States Department of Agriculture, Taking Root Tennessee, and YMCA Childcare Resource Service of San Diego. This four-hour session will demonstrate how farm to ECE initiatives not only integrate seamlessly with the learning style of young children, but are also an evidenced-based approach to meeting educational and nutrition standards (including CACFP meal patterns) and improving the quality of early care and education environments. Whether participants are seasoned experts or just ready to plant the first seeds, they will come away with concrete plans to “grow” health and wellness, experiential learning opportunities, and parent engagement through farm to ECE.  

The learning and fun continue with multiple break-out sessions devoted to the core elements of farm to ECE. The National Farm to School Network, USDA, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute and North County Community Services will introduce participants to the ways that farm to ECE initiatives can support success in meeting new CACFP meal pattern requirements while increasing children’s acceptance of the new foods found on their plates. In another session, USDA will show participants how to use the popular Grow It! Try It! Like It! nutrition education curriculum to build lifelong healthy habits for young eaters. USDA will also join the Texas Department of Agriculture and Michigan State University to provide attendees with concrete steps to begin or increase their use of local products in menus and educational programming. Finally, Our Daily Bread of Tennessee will dig into the garden experience and demonstrate how gardening can promote healthier food choices and introduce science, math, and environmental stewardship concepts, while improving social and interpersonal skills.  

Find more ways to celebrate CACFP during National CACFP Week and learn more about National CACFP Conference from the National CACFP Sponsors Association. Learn more about farm to early care and education from the National Farm to School Network’s Farm to Early Care and Education landing page.

Farm to School in the Every Student Succeeds Act

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

By Ariel Bernstein, Farm to School and Education Fellow

Farm to school is a multifaceted movement with many intersecting components. As stakeholders continue to engage in policy levers for farm to school, a large piece of education legislation, Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), comes into the conversation. To help you stay aware of and take advantage of the opportunities this legislation provides, the National Farm to School Network has created a toolkit outlining how farm to school engages with ESSA. As the farm to school movement continues to grow, it is imperative to seek new opportunities where farm to school can impact students and families. ESSA is one of them.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) has been one of the most important education policies to shape the way states and districts interact with their most vulnerable students and lowest performing schools. It has provided opportunities for low-income, migrants and native students, as well as outlined Title I funding, data reporting and many forms of enrichment education. In December of 2015, Every Student Succeeds Act was signed into legislation, reauthorizing ESEA and replacing its predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). ESSA has taken a different approach than NCLB did, shifting more decision making authority to states, opposed to having power concentrated at the federal level. Under the new legislation, State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) design their own education plans, giving them leverage to choose how federal funding is used. ESSA also has a heavy focus on non-academic factors that contribute to improving education. Aspects such as school climate, health and wellness, and family engagement are being pulled into conversations about student success, creating a more holistic and well-rounded educational environment for students.

These themes provide great potential for farm to school and early care and education (ECE) to interact with this legislation. There are opportunities for the inclusion of farm to school and ECE in the design and implementation of state and local plans for ESSA. Farm to school can improve educational outcomes through methods such as social and emotional learning, health and food education, family and community engagement, and healthier school climate, just to name a few. ESSA’s focus on well rounded education is a great connection point for farm to school, and one that should be taken advantage of by educators, school health professionals, parents advocates and all other farm to school stakeholders.

With education as one of the three core elements of farm to school, it is key that we stay engaged with this legislation and the opportunities it provides. This new toolkit is designed for educators, advocates, parents and farm to school and ECE stakeholders to understand and act upon the opportunities ESSA offers, and to continue to expand the reach of farm to school and ECE in our communities.


Ready to learn more? Join us on March 21, 3-4pm ET, for a Q&A style webinar about farm to school in ESSA. Register here. Or, contact Ariel Bernstein, National Farm to School Network Farm to School and Education Fellow, at ariel@farmtoschool.org.

Promising Partnerships: Extension and Farm to ECE

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center offers up close experiences with goats and other animals as part of the Farm Sprouts Preschool Program.

By Lacy Stephens, MS, RDN, Farm to Early Care and Education Associate

Cooperative Extension programs have been bringing quality research and education to rural and urban communities for over 100 years. With the goal of offering practical information to improve the lives of agricultural producers, consumers, families, and children, extension is a natural fit for partnership in farm to school and farm to early care and education (ECE) initiatives. Across the U.S., extension provides a vital link to resources and information and builds connections between producers and communities, expanding opportunities for local procurement, gardening, and food and agriculture education in schools and ECE settings.

Extension supports farm to ECE efforts in a variety of ways with diverse models of success emerging in communities across the country. Some extension programs bring local foods, gardening, and food-based education directly to the ECE classroom. In Maricopa County, Ariz., University of Arizona Cooperative Extension has a family resource center housed in a school that serves Head Start families and children with special needs. The resource center features 15 raised garden beds as part of an outdoor learning center where extension staff engage children, parents, and teachers in “Play and Learn” workshops and professional development opportunities. University of Maryland Extension brings gardening along with food, nutrition, and wellness education to children and teachers at Head Start locations in Princess Anne, Md. Children plant seeds, learn about fruits and vegetables, and sing and dance to songs about healthy food through culturally adapted curriculum. Parents join in the fun, too, with family days offering healthy snacks and family gardening time.

Other extension models bring children to the farm for immersive experiences with food and agriculture. In Pima County, Ariz., at the Tucson Village Farm, young children and their parents dig into the Lil’ Sprouts Program to learn about a wide variety of food and agriculture topics from seeds to worms to farmers. As children are immersed in hands on, scientific discovery, parents gain understanding of the important skills children develop by working in the garden, from developing self-regulation as they wait for a radish to emerge from the soil to the math skills necessarily to evenly divide seeds for sprouting. At MSU Tollgate Farm and Education Center, the Farm Sprouts Preschool Program focuses on developing scientific thinking and understanding through discovery, experimentation, and sensory experiences. Young children explore the farm and contribute to the farm community by caring for the farm animals, tending and harvesting in the gardens, and engaging in meaningful projects. The program encompasses cross-institute components, within MSU Extension, related to child development, health and nutrition, natural resources, agriculture and food systems, environmental science, and global and cultural education.

Young students visit Down’s Produce as part of the Northeast Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative.

In other programs, extension agents act as liaisons and connections to local producers and support the integration of local foods into meals and snacks in ECE settings. The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative aims to make the region a place where all people have access to healthy, local foods. One component of their multi-faceted approach is to integrate healthy, local food options into early care and education settings. One of the vital partners of the Initiative is Iowa State University Extension and Outreach which, through the development of the Iowa Food Hub, plays a primary role in production, access, and procurement of local food. In Wake County, N.C., the Wake County Farm to Child Care program has worked closely with county extension since the development of the project. In addition to helping to write the project plan, a local extension partner supports on-going connections with farmers and helped support the projects “farmer liaison” in understanding how farmers and ECE programs can work together. Through this partnership, Natural Learning Initiative (NLI) and cooperative extension staff also developed a series of publications titled "Local Foods: Childcare Center Production Gardens."

The National Institute for Food and Agriculture, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network, will be offering a webinar to share more about these and other extension and farm to ECE partnerships and project. Register here and join the webinar on March 14, at 2 PM ET. To learn more about how you can work with extension, find your local Cooperative Extension and check out tools and resources from extension at https://extension.org.