The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) is celebrating because October is National Farm to School Month! For 30 years, IATP has been at the center of the local food movement, presenting an alternative vision to factory farming and industrial food. Nowhere is this work seen more profoundly than in our Farm to Institution Program. Our work has connected farmers directly with schools, hospitals, and now early childhood education programs, to provide fresh, healthy, local foods to their meal programs. In October we’re celebrating National Farm to School Month with our partner organizations around this state!
With the start of harvest season, October is a perfect time to celebrate Minnesota’s agriculture with Farm to School activities happening in schools and early child care settings across the state. Did you know that in 2014, over 268 school districts in Minnesota were participating in Farm to School activities? You can read more about Farm to School in Minnesota from the state’s Farm to School Leadership Team’s 2016 report.
Farm to School Month isn’t just for schools. Across Minnesota and nationwide, child care centers, family child care and early childhood education settings are incorporating activities, lessons and local menu items that teach children about how food is grown. Since 2012, IATP has worked in partnership with child care centers like New Horizons Academy and the Community Action Partnership of Ramsey and Washington Counties (CAPRW) Head Start in St. Paul, and growers like the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) to connect local growers and young children. IATP’s Farm to Child Care curriculum package contains information on designing a Farm to Child Care program, including recommendations on how to showcase local farmers; detailed examples of family engagement strategies; and suggestions to incorporate food- and farm-related themes into activities such as circle time, math and science, sensory and dramatic play, arts, and conversations at mealtime. IATP is working to expand the Farm to Child Care model at several Head Start centers across the Minnesota, including Stearns County, Olmsted County and Hennepin County.
All over the country, schools and early child care settings are celebrating the connection between children and local foods. Farm to School Month is an opportunity to recognize the importance of teaching children—from toddlers to teens—about food origins, promoting lifelong healthy eating habits, and supporting local economies. From food and farming-related classroom activities, to farm tours and taste testing local fruits and vegetables, communities nationwide are joining in the festivities.
This is also a time to highlight the work that still needs to be done for smart farm to institution policy in our state. Despite over 100 school districts in the state participating in Farm to School programs, there is no statewide framework to coordinate and promote this effective and popular program for farmers and students. IATP is continuing to work at the legislature to make sure that the Departments of Agriculture and Education have dedicated staff members to work with districts on Farm to School, to ensure that early childhood is a piece of the puzzle and to fulfill our decades long mission of providing farmers with a fair price for their crops.
IATP’s Farm to Child Care work is supported in part by the Center for Prevention at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture.