Cultivating Farm-to-Early Childhood Education Opportunities
Healthy Food, Healthy Lives
September 27, 2022
Studies show that exposure to healthy foods in early childhood years has a significant impact on healthy eating habits, supporting lifelong health and nutrition.
Farm-to-early childhood education (farm-to-ECE) is a set of strategies that increases consumption of healthy foods through local purchasing, gardening opportunities, and food education activities. Farm-to-school initiatives are increasing across the State, but there has been less focus on reaching children in the youngest educational settings. Unlike farm-to-school programs, ECE settings are subject to federal rules and regulations, meaning that meal service, nutrition, and food education requirements differ, so these sites may need more support to navigate rules and launch farm-to-institution initiatives. In 2022, NYHealth awarded Rural Health Network of South Central New York (RHN) a grant to build a sustainable farm-to-ECE model to improve access to local healthy foods and nutrition education for children ages 3–5 in Delaware, Broome, and Tioga counties.
Under this grant, RHN will work with Delaware Opportunities, a local organization that operates Head Start sites, to develop a farm-to-ECE model that supports growing, eating, and learning about farm-fresh food. RHN and partners will conduct a landscape analysis of ECE systems in New York State; interview farm-to-ECE programs in other states; develop an inventory of existing efforts and potential needs at Head Start locations; meet with farm partners to discuss logistics; identify models to connect families with healthy food resources; and establish purchasing agreements between programs and suppliers. To implement this model, it will partner with eight Head Start centers to reach young children, as well as host trainings for ECE food service staff and teachers. Promotional materials will be created and distributed in these centers and the community, and a case study of the model will be published detailing the plans, implementation, outcomes, and key learnings.