Farm to Child Care: System Change in Wake County
Juicy peaches, fresh sweet watermelon, and yes, even vegetables like zucchini and squash are the norm at many child care facilities in Wake County now. It’s all thanks to Farm to Child care—policy and systems change work that is now in its fourth year.
In Wake County, there has been an 80% increase in servings of North Carolina grown produce for an average of 4.5 servings a week, and a 54% increase of fresh produce for an average of 12.8 servings per week. Policy and systems change work take a lot of time and a lot of steps to success, so it’s exciting to see these outcomes.
This has all been made possible through Farm to Child Care (F2CC), funded by the John Rex Endowment and coordinated by Wake County SmartStart (WCSS) with partners Advocates for Health in Action and Wake County Cooperative Extension. “Once child care programs ‘buy into’ F2CC and have the tools and training, they are set. It’s simply the way they do business in terms of buying produce, and ongoing support isn’t needed,” said F2CC Program Coordinator Lynn Policastro.
With training on local produce procurement options, culinary skills, incorporating F2CC into daily activities and niche marketing as a local food provider, child care directors and staff have made the shift to this new way of doing business to benefit the children (many of who are low-income and at a greater risk for health disparities) they serve. More than 3,500 children at 60 child care facilities are eating more fresh and local produce, child care centers and homes have updated handbooks to include the policy of at least three servings per week of NC produce, and centers have started hiring cooks with culinary skills when they need to rehire. A Farm to Child Care Toolkit is online and available to any child care facility that wants to make this systems change.
On the supply side, more distributors are providing local produce options as the request of child care directors. In addition, small, local farmers are serving some child care facilities directly each week. An ongoing challenge, which remains is a huge business opportunity in Wake County, is the need for a small hub for smaller farmers and refrigerated transportation. With this type of infrastructure, small farms could supply more child care facilities in Wake, which has significant market potential.
NC Social Innovations Funds have enabled WCSS to continue the work with partners this year, and Wake County Farm to Child Care expertise has helped informed state-wide progress. In fact, F2CC is a module of the Shape NC project happening across the state now. Locally, 15 more centers in Wake County will receive support on F2CC, and WCSS is also providing more support this year for facilities that have not received the intensive F2CC training previously.