Farm to early care and education (Farm to ECE) encompasses efforts that bring locally or regionally produced foods into ECE programs using three core strategies: local food sourcing, gardening, and food and agriculture education. The goal is to enhance the quality of the educational experience in all types of ECE settings (e.g., preschools, child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start/Early Head Start, programs in K-12 school districts).
Who We Are:
The Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) Coalition encompasses efforts that bring locally or regionally produced foods into ECE programs using three core strategies: local food sourcing, gardening, and food and agriculture education.
The goal is to enhance the quality of the educational experience in all types of ECE settings (e.g., preschools, child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start/Early Head Start, programs in K-12 school districts).
The early care and education field includes a wide variety of home-based and center-based early learning providers. Each of these settings offer unique opportunities to incorporate Farm to Early Care and Education strategies into child care program environments, curriculums, and menus.
Starting in 2017, this initiative began as a collaboration between Alabama Partnership for Children, the Farm Food Collaborative, Childcare Resources, Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries, and VOICES for Alabama’s Children.
What Motivates Us:
Our vision is that all of Alabama’s ECE programs are empowered to successfully source healthy local food, build gardens, and offer food and agriculture activities that enrich the quality of early learning experiences for children and support the Alabama food economy.
Our mission is that the Alabama Farm to ECE Coalition strives to create more equitable access to healthy foods for children, families, and ECE providers while building new markets for small farmers to sell their produce. We cultivate and activate community-informed solutions that build local and statewide capacity and infrastructure to support local food sourcing, gardening, and food and agriculture education in all ECE programs, regardless of geographic location, program type or socioeconomic status of families served.
What We Do:
The core values of Farm to ECE include collaboration, community voice, a strengths-based approach, equity, and openness, accountability, and clear communication. The Farm to ECE Coalition wants to provide the right resources to children to provide them with the best possible future while supporting Alabama.
In addition to promoting health, wellness, and high quality educational opportunities, farm to early care and education also expands healthy food access, encourages family and community engagement, provides additional market opportunities for farmers, and supports thriving communities.
Farm to ECE is a set of strategies and activities that offer increased access to healthy, local foods through local procurement, gardening opportunities, and food and agriculture education activities to enhance the quality of the educational experience.
You Can Do It Too:
You can get involved in Farm to ECE! To get started, your goals should be to: improve the health of children, their quality of education, and promote valuable engagement opportunities for the children and their families. Here are some steps to take to get started!
Look at where you are and where you would like to be.
You can assess how well your program meets Farm to ECE best practices using Go NAPSACC, which is a free online tool for child care providers in the state of Alabama. By taking the Farm to ECE Self-Assessment, you will assess how often you provide locally-grown foods, gardening activities, and nutrition education to the children in your care.
Form a team and collaborate!
Look to educators and administrators, parents, child care resource and referral agencies, local farmers and producers, community organizations, and even local colleges or universities that can play important roles in early care and educational activities.
Establish a few attainable goals!
Start with something small and go from there. Identify a snack or meal that you could transition to local. Find a farmer or farmers market that can connect you with local foods. They can also help you with planning a class field trip to a farm or farmers market!
Learn from others. Don’t get discouraged if you run into an obstacle!
There are plenty of places to learn more, including the National Farm to School Network website. Your county’s child care resource and referral agency also provides resources for implementing Farm to ECE activities in your program. The Child and Adult Care Food Program sponsor near you can also help you in starting this process, and can show you how Farm to ECE can work with CACFP.
Spread the word in your community.
Share your story on social media and invite others to join you!