Meet the 2023 Grow More Awards Recipients

Early Care and Education providers, farmers and food producers are nominated for the Grow More Awards by their peers to acknowledge their dedication to farm to ECE efforts.

Each year, the Michigan Farm to Early Care and Education Network celebrates early care and education (ECE) providers, farmers, and food producers doing extraordinary work with the Grow More Awards. Farm to ECE in Michigan includes local food sourcing, nutrition education, and gardening for children ages 0-5 in early care and education settings. Children, families, early care and education providers, and farmers all benefit from farm to ECE. 

Early Care and Education providers, farmers and food producers are nominated by their peers to acknowledge their dedication to farm to ECE efforts.  


Here are the 2023 Grow More Award Recipients: 

For Early Care and Education (ECE) Providers  

Early care and education providers, such as child care centers, family care homes, Head Start and Early Head Start, tribal child care programs, and preschools based in K-12 schools, are engaged in farm to ECE efforts.  

Providers were nominated for the Grow More Awards in one or more of the following Categories: 

  • Gardening: planting, growing, and harvesting of fruits, vegetables, and edible plants   
  • Nutrition and Agricultural Education Activities: educational opportunities related to food, nutrition, and agriculture that help children learn about how food grows and where it comes from   
  • Procurement: purchasing or obtaining food grown or produced locally   
Michele’s Rugrats Daycare  

Michele Wambold of Michele’s Rugrats Daycare participated in the 4H Gardening and Nutrition program to learn ways to expand their garden. The children helped pick out seeds, plant them, watch them grow, and help harvest the crops. From their nomination, ”the kids were excited when fruits and veggies started to grow and that carried into some of the children having gardens at home for the first time.” 

Kathryn Maclin Smith  

Kathryn Maclin Smith makes an effort to try two or more fruits and vegetables each month with the children in her care, such as patty pan squash or longan fruit. Additionally, she worked on a community garden plot with the children to plant, maintain, and grow their own fruit. During the day, the produce would be cleaned, then enjoyed together in snacks and lunches.  

Nay Nay Kids Care  

Renee Lewandowski of Nay Nay Kids Care embraces all aspects of early care and education with the kids in her care. She utilized a Growing Health Eaters grant to purchase plants for her child care’s garden. Through this garden, she involved children in the process of growing a variety of fruits and vegetables, harvesting them, and preparing them to eat. 

Procurement, Gardening, and Nutrition and Agriculture Education Activities:  
Teddy Bear Day Care & Preschool 

Beth Fryer is the founder, owner, and operator of the three locations of Teddy Bear Day Care & preschool in Traverse City. She was nominated for being strongly committed to engaging children in authentic outdoor learning through play. In addition to tending to the garden, preschoolers even built a produce stand and got to “sell” their garden-grown produce to their parents at the end of the day.  

Karen’s Childcare  

Karen Pankow of Karen’s Childcare serves as a 4-H Leader and Rabbit Barn superintendent for the Oceana County Fair, as well as works with young children to grow veggies in the garden. By participating in the Growing Healthy Eaters program, she received a community supported agriculture (CSA) share. Through the garden produce and CSA share, she produces nutritious meals for those in her care. 

Nutrition and Agricultural Education Activities:  
Tri-County Head Start (Robin Neeb) 

Robin Neeb of Tri-County Head Start loves engaging with the children in her care, and even helps educate the families. Neeb is known for creating a “What’s for Dinner” event. This event brings together families to enjoy a meal together and to try new things. Each family gets to take a crockpot full of fresh food to try out a new recipe at home.

Gardening and Nutrition and Agricultural Education Activities: 
Paula Schnaner  

Paula Schnaner delivers nutritional education to her child care by providing opportunities for growing, preparing and consuming whole foods. The children enjoyed watching "baby" plants grow from seeds and then eating the fruit. Through participating in the Growing Healthy Eaters program, she received a weekly CSA share to introduce new, fresh foods to children. To complement these activities, CNI Lisa Fleury was invited into the child care to teach nutrition and exercise with the children. 

Learn and Grow Childcare  

Robert and Lupe Cain of Learn and Grow Childcare take full advantage of MSU Extension programming for garden production access to whole foods through the Growing Healthy Eaters program,. At their child care, they integrate a variety of gardening and agricultural education activities; children plant, weed, harvest, and enjoy their produce in nutritionally and culturally appropriate meals. 

Early Foundations  

Maritza Cooper of Early Foundations works with the children on the child care garden and shows them how to harvest ripe produce. She discusses health choices with the children as she implements cooking projects that utilize the garden grown produce. On the weekly child care menu, Cooper provides a vegetarian meal option each week to continually expose kids to different foods.  

For Farmers and Food Producers  

Farmers and food producers were also eligible to receive a Grow More Award.  

A farmer and/or food producer is anyone who is growing or providing one or more varieties of Michigan crops/products to an early care and education (ECE) site (e.g., farmer with CSA, local chef donating extra produce from garden).   

Willow Run Acres, Ypsilanti  

Willow Run Acres hosted Farmer Visits with the National Kidney Foundation for early care and education providers. Farmer TC Collins worked with providers to make these events fun and accessible for everyone. From the nomination, it noted, “He made it possible for everyone to learn about farming and beekeeping and the importance they have in our communities and our lives.”   

Schultz Fruitridge Farms, Mattawan  

Schultz Fruitridge Farms supplies fresh produce to The Dreamery, a local child care center run by the YWCA in Kalamazoo. They provide a variety of fruits and vegetables year round including asparagus, strawberries, blueberries, sweet corn, peaches, pears, apples, onions, and more Over the years, they have shared recipes and found ways to continue to grow their partnership.  

Tiki Hut 

Tiki Hut was nominated thanks to the accommodation they made for a local child care. Because the ECE provider was unable to pick up produce during the operating hours, Farmer Paul Avery delivered weekly. Plus, children at the center enjoyed choosing next week’s order by checking on what was growing in his greenhouse through his social media page.  

Keep Growing Detroit, Detroit  

Lindsey Pielack of Keep Growing Detroit is “the missing link” supporting home provider’s success at accomplishing best farm to ECE practices. From her nomination, “she is the support system, along with her colleagues, that both my child care providers and I need to make steps towards improvements in every goal set for farm to ECE.” Her work has provided manageable action steps for providers to understand that farm to ECE work involves more than just having a garden, but also includes producing and providing locally grown food, as well as informing parents of the child care efforts at play. 

Congratulations and thank you to the ECE providers and farmers who are leading the way in farm to early care and education!   

This award, created by the Michigan Farm to Early Care and Education Network, will be offered in future years to honor and acknowledge early care and education providers and farmers/food producers who support farm to ECE with their work. 


About the Michigan Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) Network  

The Michigan Farm to ECE Network collaborates so children ages birth to 5 can grow, choose, and eat nutritious local food in early care and education settings.  

Farm to ECE in Michigan includes local food sourcing, nutrition education, and gardening. Children, families, ECE providers, and farmers all benefit from farm to ECE.  

The Michigan Farm to ECE Network exists to:  

  • improve access to nutrient dense food,  
  • increase nutritional awareness and health outcomes, and 
  • support ECE providers as they work to improve children’s learning environments.  

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