What We Can Learn from Six Organizations Advancing a Farm to Early Care and Education Approach
Photo credit: Mark Luinenburg, courtesy of pfc Social Impact Advisors
By Gayle Peterson, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Co-founder & Senior Managing Director, and Hilda Vega, pfc Social Impact Advisors, Vice President of Programs
In a time of change, many of us reflect on our values and passions and consider the kind of community we want our children to live in. We consider various policy options and how they have (or have not) worked to improve the lives of children and families across the country. Those of us involved in the fields of healthy food access or education will be looking for supportive policies in these areas, hoping that policy makers will continue projects like Let’s Move! or increased funding for Head Start programs. We’ll also hope that current battles, like those over Child Nutrition Reauthorization, will be resolved with the best possible outcome for children’s access to healthy food. A supportive policy environment, along with ingenuity and perseverance from the early care and education community are vital components to ensuring that all of our nation’s young children have access to healthy, nutritional foods and high quality learning opportunities.
With this need in mind, pfc Social Impact Advisors, in partnership with the National Farm to School Network and the BUILD Initiative, has developed a new set of case studies that highlight best practices from service providers using farm to ECE as an approach to support health, wellness, high-quality education, and community change. Part of the Good Food, Great Kids project, these case studies explore how multiple cities and regions embarked on the journey of bringing farm to ECE to vulnerable children in Head Start programs. Here’s a snapshot of what we learned:
- In Minneapolis/St. Paul, we learned about Hmong farmers working with Head Start centers and other local food service providers to enliven their menus with local food.
- In Washington, D.C., we met with staff and children of CentroNia, a multicultural and bilingual community and education center that incorporates school gardening, a healthy food curriculum, local procurement, and on-site scratch cooking to help students connect with their food.
- The Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation (BSRC) in Brooklyn is working to break down myths about farm to ECE by sharing their success in working with a local food hub and other partners to bring fresh food to early care programs and the greater community of Central Brooklyn.
- The Northeast Iowa Food & Fitness Initiative, which works across six counties in Iowa, links together diverse community members such as local colleges, human service provides, and food service provider partners works to help more children under the age of five (and their families) learn about and have affordable access to healthy food and knowledge about it.
- In Kansas City, Mo, two concerned community members—one a chef and the other a farmer and promoter of better access to affordable, healthy food-- worked to create a program that offers chef-driven meals in Head Start and other educational programs, healthy food education and access for children and families, and other experiential resources for children across the city.
- In Philadelphia, the Norris Square Community Alliance is embarking on a strategic planning process with community members to formally incorporate a farm to ECE program targeting 700 children and striving to benefit all families and neighbors who are part of the Norris Square community.
You can dig deeper into each of the case studies here.
Accompanying these new case studies is the Good Food, Great Kids policy research report, which highlights some of the most pressing challenges faced by farm to ECE programs, such as limited funding at the national and state levels to support these activities. It also highlights needs to have the space and resources to think more intentionally about equity, family engagement, the impact of policy realities on care providers, the need for bridge-building across sectors, and the need for more research about the impact of farm to ECE on child outcomes.
There is no one-size fits all approach to farm to ECE. Yet, the six sites featured in these new resources found that bringing together complex issues like good food and early childhood education present a new way forward to ensure a good start and stronger future for children, especially those in vulnerable neighborhoods. Their experiences offer important guidance for others hoping to make nutritious food and high-quality early childcare and education a reality in their communities. By sharing and learning from stories like these, we can create momentum, spur innovation, and generate change that will help ensure that access to healthy, nutritional food is a right, not a privilege, for all young children.