By Sophia Riemer, NFSN Program Fellow
March 14-20, 2021 is National Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) Week. CACFP Week aims to raise awareness of how USDA’s CACFP program works to combat hunger by providing healthy foods to child care centers, homes and afterschool programs across the country. Throughout National CACFP Week, we’re highlighting innovative and inspirational programs across the country working to better align farm to ECE and CACFP and increase awareness and participation. Below is part three of our three-part Farm to CACFP blog series. Read Part 1: Iowa's Incentive Pilot Program here.
Arizona’s Building Awareness & Efficacy with a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge
Arizona’s Department of Education has found a way to build excitement, awareness and recognition around farm to ECE while honoring CACFP providers through a CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge that takes place during CACFP week. To finish the challenge, early care providers have to complete three tasks: serve at least one locally sourced CACFP meal component, host at least one activity that educates students where food comes from and share at least one social media post about the challenge.
Ashley Schimke, Farm to School Program Specialist at the Department of Education, Health and Nutrition Services, explained how the winners of the challenge receive a trophy. “Any state recognition carries weight for centers”, Schimke explained. There are other benefits to participating in the challenge as well, such as providing the opportunity for staff to do something fun and different.
In fact, the department decided to keep the challenge running through COVID-19 to deliver joy during difficult times for providers, meal service operators and children. The challenge has also helped to gain buy-in from the Department of Education staff themselves. “The challenge excited staff. They agreed it was an easy way to explain farm to ECE to partners”, said Schimke. The aim of the challenge is to inspire CACFP participants who want to start doing farm to ECE in a tangible, structured way. “The structure of the challenge provides a recipe for someone that doesn’t know where to start but gives them flexibility to do what makes sense for them”.
Schimke has received feedback from providers that local procurement is the most difficult component of farm to ECE, so the challenge focuses on small steps to provide easy wins for centers. Providers are asked to complete one instance of each action necessary to complete the challenge instead of the “3,2,1” model used in the other challenges the department hosts. They also created tiers for the procurement action. Those who have never procured locally can use local milk (which is often local by nature), those with some experience look for local swaps of produce that is already being purchased regularly, and those with extensive experience look for local foods such as meats, beans or grains they would like to purchase and find a locally sourced option. This way, those who come back every year can continue to challenge themselves to do more than the year they did previously.
Schimke hopes that they can continue this work and have centers who participate every year, making the challenge a normal part of their annual schedule. Schimke explained, “The access points [to source locally] are there, but it doesn’t happen without demand. By having an annual way to touch base, providers learn it’s possible to buy local- that it’s not as complicated as it seems.” She advised other states that want to implement a similar challenge to connect with National Farm to School Network partners for resources, but to make the challenge their own. “Take a look at your state’s goals and what your providers need.”