Half of Early Care and Education Sites Participating in Farm to Early Care and Education, According to New Survey Data from National Farm to School Network

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Local food in meals, gardens and nutrition education support children’s health and strengthen experiential learning in early childhood

This survey has provided the only current national-level data available on farm to ECE participation and trends.

Nearly half (49 percent) of surveyed early care and education (ECE) sites are already participating in farm to ECE and 30 percent plan to start in the future, according to a new survey report from the National Farm to School Network and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. Farm to ECE is a set of activities and strategies – including the use of local foods in meals and snacks, gardening opportunities, and food, nutrition and agriculture learning activities – implemented with the goals of promoting health and wellness and enhancing the overall quality of the educational experience in all types of ECE settings, including preschools, child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start/Early Head Start and programs in K-12 school districts.

In 2018, the National Farm to School Network and Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems surveyed ECE providers across the country to better understand the current landscape and reach of farm to ECE, including the application of activities, motivations and challenges. Responses were collected from 2,030 providers serving 255,257 young children in 45 states and Washington, D.C. This survey has provided the only current national-level data available on farm to ECE participation and trends. A report with survey analysis, state level survey data, and additional resources highlighting the results, including an infographic and fact sheet, can be downloaded at http://www.farmtoschool.org/ece.

The survey found that farm to ECE is reaching far and wide across the country. Providers said they choose farm to ECE to teach children about where food comes from and how it grows (96 percent), support children’s health (95 percent), and provide experiential learning opportunities (94 percent).

“Farm to ECE benefits align with the goals of the ECE community including an emphasis on experiential learning, family and community engagement, health and wellness, and equity. The results of this survey demonstrate ECE providers’ interest in leveraging farm to ECE to meet these goals and to address programmatic and learning standards,” said Lacy Stephens, Program Manager with the National Farm to School Network.

The survey also honed in on barriers to implementing and advancing farm to ECE, as well as opportunities to address those barriers. For example, providers identified cost and seasonality of foods as barriers to serving local foods in meals and snacks. Report authors discuss a number of approaches including provider training, policy changes and broader community food system interventions that can begin to address these challenges.

“These farm to ECE survey results, especially understanding the top barriers and resources needed, will definitely help guide our emerging efforts to support ECE providers in sourcing and serving more local foods,” said Colleen Matts, Farm to Institution Specialist with Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems. “Farm to ECE can help the youngest children thrive by introducing them to a variety of healthy, local foods that can set the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. It can prepare kids’ taste buds for the local foods they could see in school food programs too, as farm to school continues to grow.”

Learn more about farm to ECE and the 2018 National Farm to Early Care and Education Survey at http://www.farmtoschool.org/ece.

About the National Farm to School Network
National Farm to School Network is the leading voice for the U.S. farm to school and farm to early care and education movement, working as an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities to bring local food sourcing, gardens, and food and agriculture education into schools and early care and education settings. National Farm to School Network works at the local, state and national levels to expand and sustain the number, quality and impact of farm to school and farm to early care and education initiatives across the country. Learn more at http://www.farmtoschool.org.

About Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems
The Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) is an applied research, education and outreach organization. CRFS brings together the expertise of both MSU faculty and staff to enhance the understanding of as well as to increase engagement with regional food systems. CRFS has worked to advance food systems grounded in local regions since 2012, focusing on food that is healthy, green, fair and affordable in an effort to build a thriving economy, support equity and enhance sustainability at the state, national and global levels. Learn more at foodsystems.msu.edu and connect on Twitter and Facebook: @MSUCRFS. Find Michigan Farm to School research and resources directly at http://www.mifarmtoschool.msu.edu.

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Anna Mullen
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