Farm to Child Care: Planting the Seeds for Local Food Access for Little Ones
There are many strawberry growers in Wake County. Child care facilities could purchase delicious and healthy strawberries for snacks and meals at their centers all spring long.
There are approximately 500 child care facilities across Wake County, and about 25% of Wake County’s 80,000 young children are enrolled in regulated child care, where they receive most meals and snacks five days per week, year-round.
This translates to a tremendous opportunity to nourish our youngest citizens with healthy local fruits and vegetables, create lifetime good habits, and support local farmers and the local economy in the process.
Last August, AHA and partners Wake County SmartStart and Wake County Cooperative Extension began work on an assessment and planning grant awarded from the John Rex Endowment to explore the local farm to table movement in the context of child care facilities.
To date, we have surveyed child care facilities receiving subsidies (and therefore serving the children who are most in need in our area) and farmers to learn how we might facilitate connections for them and enable local farms to be a source of produce for the centers.
Here’s a snapshot of some of our findings to date from child care facilities directors:
- 73% currently buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
- 83% want to offer NC fruits and vegetables to children in their facility.
- Cost is the most commonly cited reason for NOT buying more fruits and vegetables (57.7%); inconvenience is second with 42.3%; a little over a third said they do not have time to shop for or prepare them.
- The largest need identified is training for how to prepare fruits and vegetables in a manner that is kid-friendly–nearly 60 percent of respondents identified this need. Training about what is in season and recipes were the next two most requested needs.
- This survey also showed us that a significant number of child care facilities are interested in installing fruit/vegetable gardens to provide children with the experience of growing and tasting these healthy foods.
From the farmer’s perspective, they are eager to work with new buyers, such as child care centers, and building relationships with center directors is very important to them.
We are now digging deeper into some of the questions as to how to address concerns and potential barriers for both buyers and growers, and expect to seek an implementation grant to pilot this work to bring local food to child care centers.
In addition, the survey work was instrumental in our planning to develop programming for Dig In! on March 9. We have a workshop track specifically on School/Child Care Gardens with two workshops specifically of interest to child care centers.