Homegrown in the Aisles: Shopping Local at Your Grocery Store

June 3, 2024 - <mshedd@msu.edu>

Green and red peppers on display.Elements of Farm to ECE

Farm to early care and education is often thought of as a program, but it’s really a group of strategies and activities that take place within early care and education settings and offers increased access to nutrient-dense, local foods, include gardening opportunities, and food, nutrition, and agriculture education activities, such as tasting demonstrations, cooking activities, and even visiting farms.​

Farm to ECE works in all kinds of early care and education settings, including child care centers, Head Start, family child care, tribal child care, and early Head Start—anywhere someone is providing care for children from birth to age five.​

What Local Means

Defining local is up to the early care and education site, which offers flexibility to providers. For example, this could mean purchasing or obtaining food grown within the state. A child care setting that is close to another state may opt to define local based on mileage. In other words, they may define local as any purchases within a 300-mile radius. Some reimbursement programs may have specific guidelines or regulations regarding local as a requirement for reimbursement as well.

Why Local can be Important

In farm to ECE we often talk about the “triple win” or how when we are able to successfully implement farm to ECE, children win, farmers win, and communities win.  Children are learning where their food comes from and about nutrition. They develop healthy eating habits that they carry into adulthood with them. When children visit farms, orchards, and markets during field trips which may occur now virtually or through books now or enjoy visits from chefs, farmers, or ranchers, they develop an understanding of the community food system. Tasting of local foods can be used across content areas and support learning in literacy, math, science, and social studies to help meet early learning guidelines. ​

Farmers are gaining customers—both young ones they will hopefully have for a lifetime, but also their families. This also helps to keep their customer base in the community. ​

And communities win, too. Keeping money in the local economy is an important investment, but we also talk about the environmental impact and reduction of carbon footprint by reducing the travel miles of the food supply. Local food also connect people with one another and develops positive relationships—something that also feels fundamentally important in today’s challenging times.​

A vegetable display in a grocery storeBuying Local Products in Grocery Stores

  • Sometimes buying local means buying more of a certain product when it is in season and freezing it or storing it for when it isn’t in season.
  • Check the label. There is no regulation for the definition of “local”, but you can look for the address of the manufacturer or distributor to see if it fits within your definition. For certain products, like fish, most grocery stores will also display where products have come from, known as the Country of Origin Labeling or COOL standards
  • Look for signs above the product advertising local sourcing. This might include “local farm” or “grown in” and the name of the state. Increasingly stores are advertising in-store that products are grown or sourced within a certain mile radius.
  • If you are unsure if children will accept a new item, you can make smaller batches as part of tasting demonstrations and then purchase more to incorporate in sides.
  • Take advantage of seasonal purchasing and buy in bulk too. For example, in the fall, purchasing bags of apples for the week can include baked apples, smoothies, and even making applesauce with the children in your care.
  • Special events like Harvest of the Month or Apple Crunches can be fun ways to add local products to the menu while also encouraging children to learn more about different fruits and vegetables.

Tips for Purchasing

When buying local, it can feel overwhelming if you try to do everything at once. Instead, try starting small, with perhaps one or two products that you know you will use on a regular basis, are within your budget, and can be easy to identify as fitting your definition of local. As you feel comfortable with buying this way, you can increase the number of items or your budget for purchasing this way.

For example, one provider shared how she set a goal of increasing items grown in the state, her site’s definition of local, by two items a month. She started by including milk as it was on her menu every day and it was easy to check the label to see where it was sourced. Her next item was to include a vegetable as a side to one meal a week. If she didn’t see “local farm” on the sign above the vegetable in the produce aisle, she looked at the labels on bagged items to see if potatoes, onions, or greens were grown within the state.

Using CACFP and Other Programs

Federal food programs such as Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) support the inclusion of local foods and offer specific guidance for doing so. As guidelines for the federal thresholds for procurement can change as can the requirements, the recommendation is to check with your CACFP sponsor and visit the appropriate websites for the latest information.


Local Food for Little Eaters – A Migrant & Seasonal Head Start Guide to Local Food Purchasing: Step-by-step instructions and interactive tools to help you begin buying and using more local, affordable foods. (Esto también está disponible en español.) 

Local Purchasing and Local Procurement for Child Care Centers: Tips for finding local food and connecting with farmers from the National Farm to School Network.

How Much Should I Buy?: A handy guide for serving sizes of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Food preservation tips: Download and print this easy how-to guide for safely freezing and preserving produce.

Everything in Good Season Guide: Includes kid-friendly seasonal recipes, gardening tips, a guide for finding in-season produce and engaging activities for children.

Michigan Harvest of the Month: A collection of easy recipes highlighting Michigan-grown fruits and veggies – all with 10 ingredients or less.

CACFP Recipes for Child Care Homes: Hundreds of quick, kid-friendly recipes, from snacks to sandwiches. (Esto también está disponible en español.)



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