A young girl crouches over a basket in a garden. She bites into a freshly picked strawberry.

Farm to Early Care and Education: Growing Healthy Eaters


November 4, 2019 - <mshedd@msu.edu>

Early care and education (ECE) programs can use farm to ECE to help children learn better.

Farm to ECE includes purchasing and serving local foods in meals and snacks, as well as experiences like gardening with children and other educational activities related to food, nutrition, and agriculture.

Children and families eat more local fruits and vegetables when ECE programs offer farm to ECE.

Farm to ECE can be beneficial in any setting, including:

  • Licensed family child care homes
  • Unlicensed family child care homes
  • Child care centers
  • Head Start or Early Head Start programs
  • Privately funded preschools
  • State-funded preschools
  • Preschool or child care based in K-12 schools/districts
  • Tribal child care programs

Why use farm to ECE?

  • Improve children’s eating behaviors, including their willingness to try new foods.
  • Develop children’s awareness and knowledge of healthy eating, where food comes from, seasonality, gardening, and agriculture.
  • Serve more healthy foods in early care and education settings.
  • Connect with community partners to increase resources such as garden supplies, food vendor sources, and buying capacity.
  • Support local farmers and food businesses.
  • Deepen family engagement through gardening opportunities, sharing family recipes and food preferences, and influencing healthy eating in families.

Five steps to grow your farm to ECE program

  1. Get Started
    • Learn about seasonality and what grows in your area
    • Find places in your menu to use local foods, substitute local products when in season, or introduce new recipes at snacks or meals
  2. Build Community Connections
  3. Prepare to Purchase Local Foods
    • Develop a procurement plan for your program
    • Gather information about potential vendors
  4. Choose Foods and Vendors
    • Ask local vendors about their products, practices, and prices
    • Discuss food safety and logistics with farmers and vendors
  5. Purchase Local Foods
    • Engage in conversations, taste tests, and other activities around new foods
    • Keep records of your purchases

Find the right purchasing options and resources for your programs

Small family child care homes and centers

Large child care centers

Finding funding for farm to ECE

USDA Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) funds can be used to purchase local foods and gardening supplies to help you serve fresh, healthy foods in child care settings. Learn more.




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