Farm to Early Childhood
"Really, when you enroll a child, you enroll the whole family."
– Betsy Rathbun-Gunn, Bennington County Head Start & Early Start Director
Read the Bennington County Head Start & Early Start Farm to ECE Case Study. Find the full collection of case studies here.
What is Farm to Early Childhood?
Farm to Early Childhood (FTEC) offers benefits that parallel the priorities of the early care and education community including emphasis on experiential learning opportunities, family and community engagement, and life-long health and wellness for children, families, and caregivers.
Comprehensive FTEC initiatives enhance the quality of early childhood education programs by meeting multiple learning and programmatic standards. FTEC engages families and communities, supports comprehensive child development, advances racial and social equity, and helps develop the next generation of responsible food consumers contributing to sustainable, equitable and just local food systems.
Farm to Early Childhood encompasses a wide range of programs and activities. The goals are to:
- encourage young children to enjoy eating fresh healthy foods while their preferences are still forming
- encourage children, families, and staff to develop healthy life choices by offering hands on educational experiences with nutritious food, cooking, gardening, and exposure to local farms and foods systems
- foster community resiliency and improve access to healthy food at home and in the community by building relationships with local farms and food system partners
- support early childhood quality programming initiatives through alignment with licensing regulations, learning standards, and QRIS systems like STARS
- advance social and racial equity.
Farm to Early Childhood in Vermont applies the “3C” approach seeking to integrate classroom, cafeteria/kitchen, and community activities in support of the goals.
In the Classroom
Early childhood offers a unique opportunity in the lifespan to engage young children and their families in learning about health, nutrition, food and food systems all while children are developing their food preferences and health habits for a lifetime. Early childhood classrooms are by nature experiential learning environments where activities like gardening, exploring recycling or composting, learning vocabulary to describe various tastes and textures, cooking, and visiting local farmers and food system partners or inviting them into the classroom all create meaning and connections within children’s worlds. Farm to Early Childhood offers a lens for integrating curricula across learning domains while meeting high quality standards.
- Vermont FEED’s Farm to School: Highlighting Local Fruits and Vegetables: a free downloadable resource created for schools participating in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP), or for any educators needing ideas for creating learning opportunities in the classroom around fresh food
- Cultivating Joy and Wonder: a free downloadable curriculum resource from Shelburne Farms geared for all seasons
- Growing Minds and Reach for the Stars with Farm to Preschool: Aligning Early Childhood Environmental Rating Scale (ECERS) with Farm to Preschool from North Carolina
- Pennsylvania Ready, Set, Grow: Multicultural book lists
- Grow It, Try It, Like It! Fun with Fruits and Vegetables: a free curriculum resource from USDA’s Team Nutrition
- Farm to Childcare Curriculum Package: includes activity ideas and ways to highlight a new local food item every two weeks
- New York Department of Health's Eat Well Play Hard in Child Care Settings: downloadable nutrition and physical activity curriculum
- Harvest of the Month: includes activities for children three years through pre-k
- The Preschool Initiative: Building a Healthy Foundation for Life: covers a lot of farm to preschool concepts, including ideas for teaching nutrition and physical activity
- Let’s Move! Childcare: includes curriculum and other resources to support healthy changes in early care centers
- How’s It Growing?: includes lessons on seeds, plant parts, wiggly worms, sprouts, planning and caring for the garden, and cooking what you grow!
- A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum for Infants, Toddlers, and Twos to Support Farm to ECE Models
- A Guide to Using the Creative Curriculum for Preschool to Support Farm to ECE Models
- Growing Head Start Success with Farm to Early Care and Education: aligning Head Start Performance Standards and the Early Learning Outcomes Framework with Farm to Early Childhood opportunities
- VIDEO: Using the Garden as an Educational Tool
- VIDEO: Building a Garden for Preschoolers
In the Cafeteria & Kitchen
With child obesity rates rising in Vermont since 2014, early childhood settings present a prime opportunity to help young children and families think about nutrition and healthy food options, increase their access to healthy foods, and develop healthier food preferences at young ages. Whether your early childhood setting offers snacks and meals on site or supports families in making and supplying daily foods for children in your care, thinking about food, kitchens, and child and family centered activities that provide exposure to new healthy foods can help form healthy habits for a lifetime. Taste tests, cooking projects, celebrations (birthday, holiday etc.), and family events where food is available all present learning opportunities. Furthermore, establishing a program health and wellness policy which includes guidance on nutrition, physical activity, and self-care sets the stage and expectations for healthy staff, children, and families.
Kitchen & Food Related Resources:
- Go NAPSACC: a self-guided assessment program for improving food, nutrition and physical activity policies and standards for your program with a Farm to ECE focused assessment
- Healthy Bites: a Wisconsin guide for improving child nutrition
- Local Foods and Related Activities in the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP): Farm to preschool resources from the USDA Food and Nutrition Services
- Improving Early Care Obesity Prevention through the Child and Adult Care Food Program: profiles of child care programs across the country that are using CACFP to improve the nutrition quality of meals and snacks
- Local Food for Little Eaters: a purchasing toolbox for the CACFP
- VIDEO: Cooking with Preschoolers
- VIDEO: Seasonal Snacks for Preschoolers
- Kids Get Cooking!: a cookbook with tons of healthy recipes that are easy to prepare with kids. Kids and adults alike will love these!
- Healthy Eating Cookbooks Library: a variety of ethnic and regional healthy cuisines geared for children and families
- Children Can Cook!: a resource from Better Kid Care Pennsylvania with on demand training for how to cook in early care and education setting
- Recipes for Healthy Kids: a USDA cookbook collection for cooking at home and in child care
- Child Nutrition Recipe Box: recipes which meet CACFP regulations for center-based and family child care settings
- CACFP Food Program Meal Patterns
- CACFP Menu Planning Guide
- Meal Planning Guides, provided by Snohomish County Human Services:
- USDA MyPlate for Kids
- The University of Idaho's Feeding Young Children in Group Settings Video Library
- Spokane Health District's Let's Cook Whole Foods for Healthy Kids Resource Manual
In the Community
Farm to Early Childhood builds community connections and strengthens the local economy. Children, families, and staff learn about their connections to food, farms, and other food system partners through relationship building and activities such as harvest dinners, field trips, and hosting a guest visitor at the childcare location. Farmers can expand their markets to early childhood settings offering meals and snacks as well as through family purchasing at farmer’s markets or CSA activity. All participants benefit and help build protective factors for children and families.
- NOFA Vermont's Vermont Farm & Food Guide: connections to local farms and farmers markets
- Vermont Farm to School Network Partners List: statewide efforts and local partners
- Shelburne Farms: professional development opportunities
- Vermont Community Garden Network: garden planning and support
- Food access supports:
- Vermont FEED’s Grant Resource List
- National Farm to School and Early Care and Education: a wealth of farm to early childhood resources, webinars, networking opportunities
- Let’s Move! Child Care: includes a very extensive lists of resources
- National Guidelines Nature Play & Learning Places: National Wildlife Federation and Natural Learning Initiative
- Better Kid Care’s On Demand Distance Education: a program that offers professional development modules that can be applied for the Child Development Associate (CDA) credential. Several modules focus on farm to preschool and early care.
Vermont Specific FTEC Resources:
- Shelburne Farms for Educators: FTEC and Education for Sustainability training and professional development opportunities
- Vermont FEED: FTEC planning toolkit, resource library, grant and funding opportunities, e-newsletter sign-up, and the Northeast Farm to School Institute
- Vermont Farm to School Network: networking information, regional partner organizations, and updates on Vermont’s efforts to promote Farm to School and Early Childhood initiatives statewide
- Vermont Agency of Agriculture, Food & Markets: grant opportunities to support FTEC
- NOFA Vermont: information on where to find local farmers and producers across Vermont
- Vermont Agency of Education - CACFP: Vermont website resources for CACFP