During early childhood, children start to form an awareness of where food comes from and begin to establish the taste preferences and eating habits that will stay with them throughout their lives. Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) activities connect young children with healthy, locally-grown foods and offer hands-on experiential learning activities. Through Farm to Early Care initiatives, children are exposed to a variety of fresh, healthy foods and developmentally appropriate activities that inform their understanding of the food system.
Farm to Head Start is a type of Farm to Early Care initiative, taking place within a Head Start program. These initiatives include a broad range of activities designed to introduce young children to locally grown foods and build their knowledge about where food comes from. Along with promoting health and wellness, Farm to Head Start activities offer experiential education opportunities that align with Head Start performance standards, and strengthen family and community engagement. At the same time, Farm to Head Start supports farmers by providing access to a new, stable and predictable market and boosts local economic activity.
IATP’s Community Food Systems team works on the ground with Head Start partners to adapt the Farm to Head Start model to fit each program’s unique context. Since 2013 IATP has partnered with one third of the Head Start programs across Minnesota, working alongside Head Start staff to incorporate local menu items, educational food- and farming-related classroom activities and local food-related family engagement events into their programs. From diverse urban areas like St. Paul, to tribal communities connecting children with culturally significant foods in northern Minnesota, to programs serving migrant farm worker families throughout the state, these Farm to Head Start initiatives have been successfully implemented across a range of settings.
These seven case studies illustrate how IATP’s Head Start partners were able to incorporate Farm to Head Start activities in ways that met their individual needs and goals. The case studies (and three accompanying videos) describe each program’s unique context and outline steps taken to address challenges that arose. By documenting and sharing our partners’ work, we hope to provide anyone in a Head Start (or other early care) environment with concrete examples, resources and ideas to begin their own Farm to Head Start initiative. As the case studies from our partners demonstrate, thriving and sustainable Farm to Head Start initiatives are possible in any setting!