Farm to Child Care: Opportunities and Challenges for Connecting Young Children with Local Foods and Farmers
Across the United States, interest in locally grown food has skyrocketed over the past ten years. Procurement of local and regionally grown foods by colleges, hospitals, retailers and other large buyers has dramatically increased, while farmers markets and other “direct market” channels are flourishing. The USDA now estimates that the sale of locally grown foods is nearly $5 billion per year.1
Farm to School (F2S) programs have been an integral part of the local foods revolution by encouraging K-12 schools to incorporate locally grown, minimally processed foods into their meal programs while educating a new generation about local agriculture and the benefits of eating local. In Minnesota alone, participating public schools now serve nearly 560,000 students, or 68 percent of Minnesota’s K-12 population.
While Farm to School is now becoming mainstream across the country, we recognize that the seeds of obesity and diet-related chronic disease are often sown before children begin kindergarten. Reaching children, and fostering healthy eating habits, before their K-12 years is crucial if we are to bend the curve on the obesity crisis that our nation now faces. With the vast majority of our children spending a significant portion of their early years in child care, child care settings offer a critical opportunity to influence what kids eat and how they interact with food. At the same time, few child care food buyers purchase from farmers that grow for local and regional markets, thus limiting the benefit of the child care marketplace for local growers and local economies.
This report explores the feasibility of expanding Farm to Child Care (F2CC) initiatives, the dynamics that surround foodservice in various child care contexts, and lessons learned from early efforts around the country. While a portion of our analysis is particular to realities on the ground in Minnesota, we hope that this report will inform efforts more broadly.
In conducting this research, IATP interviewed a wide range of child care providers, educators, nonprofits and government entities across the U.S. (see the list of interviewees in the appendix) and reviewed available literature. The authors would like to thank all of the individuals who contributed to this report and who are working toward a food system that enables our children, farmers and communities to thrive.
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