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 and Part 2: Arizona's CACFP Farm Fresh Challenge here.
Colorado’s Addressing Knowledge Gaps with Educational Materials & a Matchmaking Survey
Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), along with state and local partners, have made efforts to address the knowledge related barriers to implementing farm to ECE. In 2016, using funding from a Team Nutrition Grant, Cooking Up Healthy Options with Plants (CHOP), they were able to develop full day culinary training across the state. However “not everyone could take the eight hours to attend and we couldn’t take the training everywhere we wanted to because of our travel budget limitations”, explained Brittany Martens, Nutrition Consultant and Farm to ECE Coordinator at CDPHE.
In partnership with Nourish Colorado, CDPHE developed Quick Bites, eight online videos covering food safety that take less than an hour to complete and are available in both Spanish and English. The intent was to use these online videos to draw in an audience for hands-on knife skills classes, however, due to COVID-19 the knife skills class was moved online. Special attention was paid to reducing barriers to online participation; the class was paired with technical assistance for those not used to virtual classrooms and two weeks before the class attendees were sent a box with a gift card to purchase materials, notes and handouts.
Martens explained the importance of the culinary training CDPHE has been able to offer, noting the high turnover of staff in CACFP centers. “We saw a need...we want centers to buy and use local produce, but if they don’t know how to use this produce they won’t buy it.” The training not only focuses on technical skills, but emphasizes empowerment, asking attendees to reflect on why they chose their career and the influence they have over a child’s lifetime habits. “That empowerment piece allows us to build those relationships...it brings the group together” Martens explained. She believes this, along with their wonderful chef instructor, are the reasons they’ve seen many repeat attendees. Empowerment, knowledge and skills can be a strong combination, and Colorado has seen the benefit. There has been an increase in fresh produce on menus since the implementation of the culinary classes and attendees are retaining the knowledge six months after the training.
Colorado is focusing its efforts on other common barriers to local food procurement as well. They have found the largest barriers to be cost, knowledge around how to find a farmer and storage space. CDPHE has addressed cost through a MiniCoIIn grant awarded by ASPHN, providing local produce to providers in the San Luis Valley. In 2020, they received their second MiniCoIIn grant, allowing them to send CSA boxes to home providers and families during quarantine.
They were able to address the barrier of finding farmers by creating a CACFP matching survey. Due to COVID-19, many farmers have lost their market, highlighting an opportunity to help both farmers and providers. Surveys for both providers and farmers were created and are online for any provider or farmer in the state. The survey gathers information on the needs and abilities of each party, allowing Martens to connect providers to appropriate farmers. According to Martens, this matchmaking process has succeeded in building relationships. “Farmers are planting entire rows this season for providers they were matched with because they know the center will purchase their produce.” When asked what advice she would give to other states looking to implement similar work, she highlighted the importance of community buy-in. “Working from the provider perspective and understanding their experience, what they know and see and where there is potential, is really important.”