Harvesting Quality: Supporting Standards with Farm to Early Care and Education

August 29, 2022 - <mshedd@msu.edu>, PhD with contributions from Melanie Wong, MA, RDN (Groundwork Center for Resilient Communities) and Rachel Kelly

Morning sun pours through the window, bathing a small table in light. On the table are four red pots with leaves beginning to tumble over the edges of the containers. Nearby is an indoor greenhouse, perfectly sized for the tiny hands of the little farmers who tend to it.

This is one example of what farm to early care and education (ECE) looks like in action, and the list goes on. There is no limit to the ways to provide children the opportunity to participate in farm to ECE activities. A table with baskets of play produce instantly becomes a farmers’ market. A stack of books exploring the world of fruits and vegetables becomes the spark for an interest in the origins of food.  

Farm to Early Care and Education

Farm to early care and education consists of strategies and activities that support children ages birth to 5 to grow, choose, eat, and learn about nutritious local food. In the United States, approximately 12 million children under the age of five are cared for outside of the home.1 Thus, it is essential that early care and education programs provide not only quality learning environments, but also quality food for the young children in their care. Farm to ECE is one approach that ECE providers take to support the children in their care and the families they serve. Farm to ECE can take place in any type of early childhood education setting.

Quality Rating Improvement Systems

Early care and education sites may be asked to share the ways in which they provide quality care. Quality Rating and Improvement Systems (QRIS) are program standards developed by states to systematically approach assessment, improvement, and communication in early care and education. The goal of QRIS is to support positive outcomes for children beyond minimum standards. Early care and education sites participating in QRIS also need to be able to demonstrate how they are meeting those standards. The National Farm to School Network published a fact sheet in July 2022 sharing how farm to ECE aligns with QRIS. It is also important for ECE sites to understand how farm to ECE can address program standards.

How they Grow Together

Both farm to ECE and QRIS are intended for every type of early care and education setting including child care centers, family child care homes, Head Start programs, and school-based preschool programs. Farm to ECE activities can take place across content areas in the early care and education setting and can be used to show how a site is addressing standards of quality addressed in QRIS. Farm to ECE also includes strategies that can help meet standards.

Shared Language of Farm to ECE

Many ECE settings are already taking part in farm to ECE. In some settings, providers refer to their activities as such. In others, providers are engaged in farm to ECE activities but may not refer to them that way; rather, they are simply part of the everyday curriculum. Using shared language when talking about farm to ECE strengthens communication and helps achieve a common purpose, such as showing how farm to ECE addresses standards outlined in QRIS. 

Demonstrating Achievement of Standards with Farm to ECE

 To demonstrate or document how farm to early care and education activities are addressing standards of quality, providers might:

  • Use a farm to ECE self-assessment to share how you are meeting best practices
    • complete a self-assessment tool in Go NAPSACC or the assessment tool created by the National Farm to School Network (NFSN) and Association for State Public Health Nutritionists (ASPHN). Regularly complete the self-assessment to demonstrate progress toward the number of best practices met.
  • Highlight local products on your menu and include sourcing information.
  • Use Child and Care Food Program (CACFP) funds to buy local foods. If you do not participate in the CACFP, you can still follow the meal pattern standards and share how you are doing.
  • Host professional development opportunities about farm to ECE for staff. Check out MIRegistry for free professional development courses.
  • Take the children to visit a farm, farmers market, or u-pick site.
  • Integrate family engagement into farm to ECE activities.
    • Host a potting party with families to plant seed starts for a home garden;
    • Provide farm to ECE resources for parents (e.g, fruit and veggie educational videos, books, and activities to do at home); and/or
    • Share information about farm to ECE activities with families. These can be free opportunities, like sharing information from the family resource section in Go NAPSACC or other newsletters, hosting a “seed swap” event, or asking families to share their favorite recipes for an abundant crop you have in your garden this season.

Across the room in the “writing center,” two children are talking quietly with one another as they write in their journals. They rummage through a bucket of crayons for different colors as they discuss what they wrote about in their journals—the progress in the garden. As they add color earnestly, one child asks the other how long before the tomatoes in their garden will be the same color as the ones from the farmers’ market. Looking out the window, the other child replies, “A few more suns.”



  1. Child Care Aware of America. The US and the High Price of Child Care: 2019. Retrieved from https://www.childcareaware.org/our-issues/research/the-us-and-the-high-price-of-child-care-2019/


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