August 9, 2022
Summertime is perfect for warm weather, outdoor adventures, and plenty of sunshine! It’s also an opportunity to celebrate the importance of local food procurement and agriculture-based nutrition education in child nutrition programs on Farm to Summer Day, August 9, in Washington, D.C.
What Is Farm to Child Nutrition?
Farm to Child Nutrition is a collective term used to describe agriculture-based initiatives for both school-age and child-care-age (birth to pre-K) children. Farm to School has a primary focus on school-age children from kindergarten to 12th grade. Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) targets child-care-age children. Both programs place a significant interest in supporting and purchasing locally grown foods (“local” can be defined as regional, statewide, or community-based), growing school gardens, and teaching children about the origins of food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service describes Farm to Child Nutrition, specifically Farm to Summer, as an opportunity during the summer, when agriculture is in abundance, for program providers to focus on “bringing the farm” to meal sites.
According to the National Farm to School Network, “Farm to School enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local food producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools and early care and education sites.”
Some of the benefits of implementing Farm to Summer, Farm to School, or Farm to Early Care and Education programs include:
- increased participation in summer meal programs such as the D.C. Youth Meals Program (federally known as Summer Food Service Program);
- increased access to fresh and healthy foods;
- increased engagement in hands-on activities for children and families; and
- increased support of local growers and producers.
Implementation Strategies in the District of Columbia
Implementation strategies are key components of a well-developed Farm to Summer, Farm to School, or Farm to ECE programs.
In the District of Columbia, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) is responsible for administering funding and overseeing Farm to Child Nutrition Program activities.
OSSE has implemented initiatives such as Strawberries & Salad Greens Day, showcasing locally grown produce in schools and childcare settings, and Growing Healthy Schools Month, where, in the month of October, community organizations partner with local education agencies to celebrate the health of students in public schools.
Funding is an important factor when deciding to adopt a Farm to Child Nutrition Program plan. Allocating funding for Farm to Summer, Farm to School, and Farm to ECE expands the programs’ reach and impact to children across age groups. Funding streams can also be used to purchase necessary kitchen equipment such as cold food storage or kitchen small wares to prepare and package fresh food. Grant funding such as the USDA Farm to School Grants allocate federal dollars to school districts, state agencies and community organizations interested in developing strategies geared toward planning, development, and implementation. The Food Research & Action Center has published a report on Enhancing Young Children’s Access to Local Foods and Farm to ECE: Federal Funding Opportunities with information on specific funding sources for Farm to ECE.
Tips for Implementing Your Own Farm to Child Nutrition Program
If you are thinking of implementing a Farm to Child Nutrition Program plan at your school, child care center, or summer meal site, implement the following strategies:
- Begin by starting small.
- Review your daily menu and decide which item on the menu can be sourced locally from a farmer or producer.
- Taste tests are a great way to introduce new foods to children, while focusing on a locally grown and harvested food item.
- Summer months are an opportune time for farm visits. This allows children to see where and how their food is grown, as well as helps with establishing partnerships with farmers interested in supplying your program with local foods.
- Try developing a Harvest of the Month Calendar highlighting locally grown, in-season produce available in your area.
The goal of Farm to Child Nutrition Programs is to increase consumption of healthy, fresh foods while providing food-based learning activities to increase a child’s understanding of where food comes and strengthens the relationship between the community and local food procurement.
If you have question about implementing Farm to Child Nutrition Program, please contact LaMonika Jones, Anti-Hunger Program and Policy Analyst, Child Nutrition Programs at (202) 986-2200 ext. 3003 or firstname.lastname@example.org.