Guest post by the National Head Start Association
Gardens offer untapped potential in low-income communities
Head Start strives to provide at-risk children with the support they need to reach their full potential in school and in life. Head Start recognizes good health and nutrition as the foundation of school readiness and child development, and takes a comprehensive approach to supporting and promoting the health and well-being of children and families. This approach includes high-quality health and nutrition standards that are required to be culturally and developmentally appropriate, meet the nutritional needs of all individual children, follow the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and USDA recommendations, and served as family-style meals to promote staff-child interactions and healthy socialization. However, we believe there is untapped potential for garden projects in Head Start and Early Head Start programs which can further improve the health and development of children in vulnerable communities, where fresh foods are most scarce.
Recognizing the importance of strong health and nutrition in early childhood and understanding many at-risk children and families suffer from lack of access to fresh foods, the National Head Start Association (NHSA) has partnered with the National Farm to School Network to celebrate National Farm to School Month and to spread awareness on this critical issue. In celebration of National Farm to School Month, NHSA is expanding our reach, resources, and partnerships with organizations related to farm to early care and education, with the overall goal to increase access to gardening and its many benefits to low-income communities.
Numerous benefits to starting gardening early
Gardens and the fresh foods they provide in early care and education programs offer numerous benefits, ranging from increased access to nutritious and local foods for children in their vital years of development, to improved physical activity and hands-on learning related to agriculture, health, and nutrition. But not only does gardening contribute to positive child health outcomes, it also fosters healthy interactions and social skills between children, teachers, and families. Additionally, when schools and communities support local food systems, the surrounding economy thrives.
Research to support these many benefits has grown in recent years and as a result, local fresh foods and gardens have spread through communities and schools. However, most families in vulnerable communities are still food insecure and often live in areas with little to no access to fresh foods, or “food deserts.” Far too often, low-income children and families lack access to basic fresh foods.
So in addition to the National Farm to School Network, NHSA has also joined forces with The Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation. Through our partnership with Scotts Miracle-Gro, we will work with Head Start programs across the country to support children, families, and communities in the growing of their own fresh produce for life. This multi-year initiative will make garden grants, garden kits, educational curriculum, and garden training available to all Head Start programs, with the goal of creating more edible gardens for young children and their families. The partnership also includes a webinar series, as part of NHSA’s Year of Whole Health, to share information about how to create and sustain a successful Head Start garden program and the benefits for children, families, staff, and the surrounding community.
By partnering with the National Farm to School Network and Scotts Miracle-Gro, NHSA’s goal is to expand access to gardens, fresh foods and nutrition education materials for children, families, and staff across the Head Start field. NHSA hopes that each new garden grown or current garden maintained will stimulate healthy child development, family and community engagement, and sustainable locally sourced foods.
How can you help?
Through these partnerships, NHSA encourages all families, teachers, and program leaders in Head Start and across the early care and education field to share educational materials and resources with your communities and find ways to incorporate gardens into your programs and schools.
- Visit the NHSA & Scotts Miracle-Gro Foundation Garden Grants Initiative website to apply for a grant for your Head Start or Early Head Start program and learn about future webinars and resources.
- Join us in celebrating National Farm to School Month! Check out NFSN’s Celebration Toolkit for ideas on how your community, school, or program can spread awareness and support locally sourced foods. Did you know that October is National Head Start Awareness Month, too? Head Start programs can celebrate both by raising awareness of Head Start’s impacts and the ways they’re growing healthy kids and healthy families through farm to school activities.
- Read through NFSN’s Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education report to understand more about the role Head Start can play in promoting farm to ECE.
- Read through the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey produced by NFSN and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. This information is easily shared with families, teachers, and communities through the Fact Sheet, Infographic, and Sharing Toolkit provided in the above link.
- Search other helpful resources in NFSN’s resource database to understand more about the benefits of gardening and supporting local fresh foods and how you can spread this initiative to all children and families in need.