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 email@example.com.