By National Farm to School Network and The Policy Equity Group, LLC
The Policy Equity Group and the National Farm to School Network, with support from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, are pleased to jointly release Lessons from the COVID-19 Experience: Innovations and Strategies for Farm to Early Care and Education Implementation in States and Communities. This brief captures how farm to early care and education (ECE) efforts at the state and community levels were initially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Informed by the experiences of food and early childhood partner organizations in five states – Georgia, Iowa, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin – the brief documents the systemic impacts of COVID-19 and the federal response from a farm to ECE perspective; describes how farm to ECE partner organizations adapted to the new context during the initial months of the pandemic; and provides recommendations for how states and communities can sustain the successful strategies implemented during the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic had profound impacts across food and ECE systems that exacerbated inequities and racial injustices in food, health, and education. This system shock prompted and accelerated emerging education and food access trends, including increased demand for virtual learning and outdoor learning opportunities, like gardening for children and families. The shift to virtual platforms was echoed in demands for online training and professional development for ECE providers and in the food system, where everyone from agricultural producers to consumers moved to online marketplaces. Policy responses included increased flexibility in policy and regulation and increased investments in ECE and food systems through federal stimulus.
In response to the COVID-19 crisis and these emerging themes, farm to ECE stakeholders turned to innovative approaches to navigate challenges and meet the needs of children and families. Existing partnerships across food and ECE systems became vital, and many farm to ECE stakeholders deepened their engagement with emergency food organizations. These partnerships paved the way for farm to ECE initiatives, like family Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) boxes, that supported immediate family needs and maintained a market for local producers. Partner organizations met the needs of families, providers, and producers by facilitating online learning, professional development, and facilitating the transition to online food sales and purchase. Farm to ECE stakeholders creatively layered funding coming from multiple sources to support these ongoing efforts.
As many states and ECE sites continue to stabilize and recover, sustaining these innovations could be beneficial in the short and long term. Maintaining relationships across food, early care, and emergency food assistance stakeholders builds community resilience and can increase access to local foods for all families. Continued opportunities for virtual training and building infrastructure for online marketplaces opens the accessibility of education and local foods to more ECE providers and families. Importantly, the flexibility offered in child nutrition programs should be extended or built into a more permanent policy approach to continue increased access to meals and reduced paperwork burden for providers. The figure below provides a snapshot of lessons captured in the brief. These lessons are vital to informing advocacy in child nutrition policy and upcoming stimulus opportunities. For opportunities to put this information into action, learn more about NFSN policy priorities for Child Nutrition Reauthorization here and read about opportunities to leverage stimulus funding, here: Creative Opportunities for Strengthening Farm to ECE through Emerging Federal Funding Streams.
Read the full brief to learn more about these themes of innovation that emerged during COVID-19 and the policy and practice recommendations we can garner from the experience to build more equitable and more resilient ECE and food systems into the future.