“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.
Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children receive healthy meals every day as part of the day care they receive. CACFP offers a viable market for local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fisherman, as well as food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Additionally, with parental involvement and hands-on activities as regular practices, early child care settings are a natural fit for connecting children and families with where and how their food is produced.
From Georgia to Oregon, statewide support to implement the farm to preschool program is growing. For National Farm to School Month, the Kansas Department of Education created a Taste of Kansas CACFP menu featuring products grown and produced within the state. Also, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture hired a farm to preschool specialist and offers a whole host of resources on their farm to preschool website.
USDA resources include a new farm to preschool fact sheet, farm to preschool website and a policy memo encouraging early child care providers to use local food as a means to enhance CACFP operations. For 2016, we expanded the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to include school-based CACFP programs. We are updating existing resources, including the Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs Guide, and adapting our hands-on garden-themed curriculum Grow It! Try It! Like It! to fit the needs of day care homes.
Keep your eyes peeled and sign-up for the USDA Farm to School E-letter to stay up-to-date as we further engage with and meet the needs of CACFP providers in offering local foods, garden activities, and more.