Farm to Early Care and Education in Iowa
Farm to school has been gaining momentum since the early 1990’s across the nation and here in Iowa. Kids, families, and communities have noticed the positive impacts to school culture, student outcomes, meal quality, and community connectedness. But can this model work for those who care for kids birth through age 8?
That’s what the Iowa Farm to Early Care and Education Coalition is setting out to prove. Since forming in early 2017, 25 stakeholders are gathering to promote healthy eating and active living in early care and education settings. These include preschool programs, Head Start classrooms, center-based and home-based child care. While diverse, with unique funding streams, regulatory, and quality measures, they all have a very important common denominator. That is-- shaping happy, healthy kids that have the skills needed to succeed in life.
What is Farm to Early Care and Education?
Farm to early care and education is a blend of three strategies: classroom learning, gardening, and local healthy food purchasing. There is no magic formula, but they definitely have a greater impact if they are integrated comprehensively into the program. They positively support all content areas: math, science, language, art and social skills. It also allows for children to positively connect with their food system and the adults that are a part of it.
These strategies work very well with this age group. Often class sizes are smaller, allowing for more adults to assist with hands on learning. Also, parents are very engaged with their children during this time. Often they are personally picking up and dropping off children, allowing for one on one communication with providers. There are lots of opportunities to share information with families through newsletters, social media, and bulletin boards. As we collect stories from settings around the state, we are learning how effective children are in being a driver for healthy changes in their family unit.
Food insecurity is a real concern for Iowa children and family. Farm to early care and education encourages innovative purchasing for child care programs. These connections can increase access opportunities through farm stands, farmers markets, and direct producer purchasing. It also instills gardening skills which can empower families to grow their own food. This is a perfect way to have nutritious food within reach.
This summer, and into fall, 31 programs are testing out activities and curriculum in three pilot areas. Together they will build a program that can be scaled up statewide. The coalition will meet again in October 2018 to advance collective work eliminating barriers for use in programs statewide. Follow our progress on Facebook at FarmtoECEIowa. If you are interested in getting involved and supporting our work please contact Kelly Hanson, 515-331-8000 ext. 107 or email Kelly@iowaaeyc.org.
Photo Credit: Sprouts Kids Academy, Tiffin, Iowa (garden plot pic)
Photo Credit: Marion Montessori School, Marion, Iowa (child gardening pic)