The Farmer in the Dell: Connecting with a Local Grower

May 17, 2024 - <>

What is Farm to ECE?

Farm to early care and education (ECE) can often be mistaken for a program, but it’s really a collection of strategies and activities that occur within early care and education settings that offer children increased access to nutrient-dense, local foods. Strategies include gardening opportunities; food, nutrition, and agriculture education activities, such as tasting demonstrations and cooking activities; and even farm visits. 

Farm to ECE activities may overlap, meaning that as one is taking place, it supports another. This might happen when children are learning about how food is grown when they are taking part in gardening activities. Or it could occur when they are able to gather ingredients for a favorite recipe as they visit a local grower.

To help with purchasing local foods for your ECE site, consider:

  • a list of the foods needed
  • quantity of each food needed
  • frequency of purchasing (weekly, biweekly, etc.)
  • purchasing standards (any specifications)
  • payment method/schedule
  • delivery schedule/options

What is a Local Grower?

Individual ECE sites can define what “local” means to them. Sourcing local means purchasing from growers or producers within a set geographic area. Some state and federal food programs may have requirements for local food reimbursement. Otherwise, an ECE site might define “local” food as food grown or produced within a certain mile radius (such as within 200 miles from the site) or within a specific zip code, county, or state.

Purchasing from a Local Grower

There are several different types of local growers from whom to source food for your site, including farmers, groups of farmers or cooperatives that work together, farm stands, farmers markets, food hubs, or specialty or broadline distributors. Also, you can often purchase from local growers at your grocery store by looking for items labeled “locally grown.”

One of the easiest ways to find out how to source locally is with a food map. Here are a few options below: 

  • Taste the Local Difference Food Maps can help you find Michigan-based grocery stores, farmers markets, and other distributors that supply Michigan-grown foods. Food hubs, which serve as a central location or “aggregator” for multiple growers and producers to bring their products, are often reliable and affordable sources of local foods.
  • The Michigan Market Maker is a tool that can help you find farms and farmers markets close to your site by simply typing in your location in the search bar and then selecting the source that fits your need. 
  • At the national level, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) also offers a Local Food Directories tool that works in a similar way.
  • Local Harvest can also help you find farms, farmers markets, and CSAs in your area.

Connecting with Local Growers

Red kale plants growing in a sunlit garden.Connecting with local farmers and food producers is a great way to support your community while ensuring fresh, nutrient-dense ingredients for the snacks and meals served at your site. Just like ECE providers, farmers and food producers juggle a lot during their busy days. If you're meeting a farmer at the farmers market for the first time, consider asking for their contact information and the best time to connect for ongoing sourcing discussions, especially on bustling market mornings.

When planning a visit to a food hub, a quick call ahead can make all the difference. Asking about non-peak hours or scheduling a meeting with staff can ensure you have the time and attention you need for any questions you may have. Whether you're speaking with a farmer, food producer, or staff at a food hub, having a list of questions handy can streamline your purchasing decisions. Consider asking about their farm's location and history, upcoming seasonal produce, storage recommendations for specific products, pre-ordering options, and the possibility of delivery.

In addition to the previously shared resources for finding local food sources, there are even more tools available to assist you in sourcing local foods for early care and education settings. These resources can provide valuable guidance to ensure you're making informed and sustainable purchasing decisions.

Photo of green fruits in the foreground and an herb garden in the background.



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