Farm to School in Early Childcare in Michigan: Opportunity for Local Food Access and Awareness


February 1, 2013 - <>

In February 2012, researchers from the Michigan State University Center for Regional Food Systems surveyed staff of Michigan early childcare and education programs to explore increasing good food access and awareness through Farm to School initiatives. An electronic survey was emailed to 233 individuals through the Michigan Office of Great Start listserv. The survey was also promoted in other venues such as relevant listservs and conferences, but we cannot quantify the intended sample population among their subscribers and participants. The response rate by question varied considerably.

A total of 76 administrators (55%), teachers (25%), food program staff (9%) and other program staff (11%) responded to the survey, though it is possible that some respondents represented the same programs. The majority of respondents represented programs with a traditional nine-month school year (77%), located in rural areas (64%) and/or serving children three to five years of age (64%). Fewer programs were year-round (21%), were located in urban areas (31%) and/or served children from birth through five years of age (36%). (Some programs may represent a number of sites across a city, suburb or rural area.)

Fourteen programs represented by respondents previously had gardens and seven had currently operating school gardens. Of those previously or currently operating a school garden, the individuals most frequently involved in garden maintenance were teachers (81%), volunteers (62%), and students (48%). School gardens were most frequently used for science curriculum (40% of these respondents), for produce for students to take home (40%) and to supplement program meals (30%). The top reasons cited for discontinuation of gardens (n=14) and the top challenges identified in starting a school garden program (n=38), were insufficient funding (43% and 63%, respectively), little to no maintenance during breaks and vacations (43%, 58%), and excessive garden maintenance duties (36%, 42%).

Fifty-three percent of respondents indicated that their program never had a school garden but they would be interested in starting one (n=74). To make school gardening a part of early childcare programs, respondents considered examples of other programs using school gardens (79%), access to tools/resources/curriculum (71%), information on getting started (66%), and school garden policies and procedures (66%) the most necessary information (n=56).

Respondents were also asked about their meals programs. Fifty-four percent of respondents indicated that food service preparation was semi-prepared, followed by heat-and-serve (17%) and scratch cooking (16%) (n=61). About half (49%) of the programs contracted with a school district for their food service but nearly as many (45%) were self-operated (n=65). Of those programs contracting with a school district, the majority (65%) had no responsibility in meal program planning, and in most cases (83%) the school district provided meal preparation support (i.e., food service staff, pre-packaged portions, etc.). Only 6% used a contracted food service management company. The top factors that influenced their selection of food vendors were price (79%), meeting specifications (38%) and food quality (36%).

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