Growing for ECE: Insights into the growing Early Care and Education Market

March 10, 2023

More Info

This session has held as part of the Community Food Systems track during the 2023 MI Ag Ideas to Grow With virtual conference. This virtual conference held February 27-March 10, 2023, is a two-week program encompassing many aspects of the agricultural industry and offering a full array of educational sessions for farmers and homeowners interested in food production and other agricultural endeavors. Sessions were recorded and can be found online at 

Video Transcript

My name is Mariel Borgman. I am the Community Food Systems Educator with MSU Extension. I'll be the host and moderator today, and this is the final session in our Community Food Systems track during the Michigan Agriculture Ideas to Grow With conference. And today we'll really be focused on specifically the Early Care and Education market. So the whole theme of this session has been farm to school and now we're focusing on those youngest eaters in their, in their learning environments. So we'll talk, if you're not familiar with, the ECE market we'll have a good introduction to that, and then we'll get into some of the specifics about the market and how you can get in the farmer. So before we get started with the presentation, I just want to thank our sponsors, Michigan State University Extension and AgriStrategies, LLC. They have generously sponsored this conference and allowed it to be able to be free of charge for anyone to attend. So we really do appreciate their sponsorship. And without further ado, I'm going to turn it over to our speakers today. We will all introduce ourselves first. I think let's do that. I think that would be good. So I'm John McCarthy, I'll just go since I opened it up. John McCarthy, I'm the Program Manager at Michigan Food and Farming systems. Lovely acronym MFFS and I specialize in food safety and different aspects of connecting farmers with different resources for business and for food safety. Thanks. I'll go next, I'm Lori Elton them with the Michigan Department of Agricultural Development and I'm a nutrition and food management consultant in the produce safety unit. Thanks. All right. I can go next. I'm Megan Chad. I'm an assistant professor at MSU, center for regional food systems and I work in Farm to early care and K12 education. And I will go last. My name is Melissa Lounsbery and I'm a registered dietitian consultant for the Michigan Department of Education, Child and Adult Care Food Program. Perfect. Thank you all. So today we have for you growing for ECE insights to the growing early care and education market. So this has brought this presentation as part of a longer program that we've been offering over the past year or so. And we have lots of different partners involved in bringing this educational program together. So just want to share and thank the partners on this slide very quickly before we get started. Just a little bit of an agenda for today. We are going to do a little welcome talk about why we're here today. We'll have an overview of the early care and education market. We'll talk about the $0.10 a meal program, which you may have heard about in other sessions, food safety, marketing and working with ECEs and then looking ahead. Okay. So at this point, I'm going to turn it over to Megan, who's going to cover a little bit about the early care and education market from a buyer perspective. Thanks, Megan. Alright, Thanks Mariel. We'll start with just a quick overview of what the early care and education sector it looks like because it can be a bit different from other markets that you might have worked with or may have approached. So next slide that there is a lot of text on this slide, so we'll try to break it down. Kinda the two main aspects of early care and education. So typically we think about childcare centers and we think about family childcare homes. Although early care and education is, we describe it as often fragmented. There are lots of different types of early care and education sites. And you'll see on the left-hand side under childcare center where we're flying through slides there under where it says aka, there are multiple types of centers that fall under childcare center, but it family childcare homes. have either a licensed capacity where they are licensed for up to one to six children, and then family childcare group homes can be licensed for up to 12 children. And they can be licensed for more, but they can only provide care for 12 children at a time. They might also be able to provide care to unrelated or not, but they can provide care to unrelated children in their home. And they may also be participating in the child and adult Care Food Program. That's what that CACFP stands for. So you may be hearing providers share that they are participating in CACFP, and so they might ask for receipts from you so they provide that documentation. The CACFP will, is also something where it's providing oversight. There's some monitoring and training and they can handle the majority of that administrative burden. They worked for sponsoring organization to help with that aspect. So if they're participating CAC, CACFP, they may be just asking for some additional documentation. That's not necessarily something that you need to worry about as a farmer other than a provider might be asking for receipts for that purpose. In childcare centers, we often think about this as a specific facility. It's not a private home and that's usually the big designation. They have to be licensed. And it can be an independent or a sponsoring organization that's providing that care for children. And that's where we usually think about a stand-alone center, what's commonly called a daycare center of the profession is moving away from that term because we care for children not for days. You might hear a nursery school, pre-school, apparent co-operative preschool, Head Start, Early Head Start, great start, any of those terms, but we typically think about it as a standalone center. It can also be a prophet or a non-profit organization. And those are just things that are important to think about. But the real thing to think about as childcare center, stand-alone operation, not a private home, family child care home or group home. It's in someone's home and then the licensing capacity is just a little bit different. Right next slide. One of the things that we wanted to know about in terms of farm too easy in the State of Michigan. And this was through the Michigan Farm to ECE network was what were providers sharing about farm too easy because we hear from a National Farm to ECE provider survey, but also from our farmers that there are challenges but there are also needed. So we wanted to find out more about what those things were. In spring of 2021, we engaged in a series of focus groups with both ECE providers and farmers about implementation of farm to ECE. We also talked with families to find out more to some of the top barriers that were identified or top challenges were cost. Local produce was too expensive for providers. And we know that cost has become even more problematic as inflation has risen. But in addition to cost, availability was problematic for providers and also making those connections with farmers. And that's something that we're working really hard to address. In the last couple of years. Providers also indicated that they weren't as familiar with the products, the produce that was available. Somebody said we'll try this. They didn't know what to do with it. They didn't know how to slice up a butternut squash or they didn't know what to do with Brussels sprouts. So those were some of the common challenges that we came across as a result. We also talked to them about needs and training and technical assistance. Technical assistance is sort of a trouble, trouble word because they think of technical assistance as like, how do I work with my computer? So we've started to use the term coaching. So how can we connect them with local farmers and with producers? Really just an awareness of what Farm to ECE actually is. A lot of times we find that they're already engaging in implementation of farm to ISI, purchasing of local foods, local produce, hands on gardening experiences and nutrition education. So helping kids learn about how food grows and where it comes from. And that's a farm down the street is actually providing food served in their local center. So all of those three things make up farm to ECE. But our early care and education, education providers might not know that by doing those things, they're actually engaged in Farm to ECE. Next slide. One of the other things that we found both in those focus groups and then in subsequent surveys was that grocery stores were the main source of purchasing. That was the top venue for purchasing products. By our providers. They shared that they wanted to purchase as many items for their menus as possible. And grocery stores were both convenient and they were lower cost for providers. They said that they were buying from farmers markets as well, but they were more likely to purchase from a farmer market for their families than they were for the early care and education site, whether that was a family-based provider or for the center. And because those grocery stores or local markets for that top venue for purchasing products, they showed that they wanted to get as many items as possible. And convenience and cost were the main factors in doing so. So those are important things for us to keep in mind because these create opportunities about increasing local purchases. So again, that training and coaching or technical assistance come into mind. How do we help providers understand? When you go to the farmer's market, go on this day, get as much as you can and then supplement at the grocery store. So go to the farmer's market in the morning, go to the grocery store in the afternoon and fill in the gaps. These are the things, these are the farmers that are going to be there in the morning. This is, these are the products that they have available and then supplement with the grocery store purchase later. The other things that we were finding was that meeting our early care and education providers, where they are conferences specific to early care and education. Online webinars to talk about these types of things. How they can leverage existing programs, like the CAC FP program we just talked about, and $0.10 a meal, which Melissa, I think is going to talk about in a little bit, can help to address those challenges of cost. Purchasing from your farmer or from a farmers market or through a food hub does not have to be more expensive than going to the grocery store. And there are ways that you can leverage those funds to cut down on the cost of local purchasing. I'm going to turn it over to Melissa and she's going to talk about the CAC FP program. Yeah. I'm going to talk about the channel adult Care Food Program, which is also sometimes shortened to the Food Program. So if you hear that is typically referring to. The CAC, GFP, which was funded by the USDA in 1968, as a wave to help address hunger and food insecurity in our childcare settings. Then later was expanded to include older children and adults. It's very similar to the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program. But in it just serves infants through adults. In early childhood education and adult care programs. Participating providers are reimbursed for Sue serving one to two meals and one snack or two snacks in one meal per participant per day. The reimbursements are to help providers provide more nutritious meals and stacks to the participants in their care and nails, most meat meal pattern requirements to be reimbursed. Next slide, please. On the slide is our meal pattern for ages three to five. And as you can see for breakfast, lunch, or supper, or snack, fruits and vegetables are required for each meal or snack. So this gives a great opportunity to source locally and meat meal pattern requirements and also promote local agriculture. Next slide, please. I wanted to give an example of a participant or a provider who is in the $0.10 a meal program, which is a state funded initiative which provides an additional $0.10 over the reimbursement that provider would receive for the meals through the USDA. This provider who serves approximately 120 children a day, is beginning to buy local by purchasing whole fresh apples from a local orchard. Apples are typically a great place for a provider to start and based on the number of children they serve there's a lot of potential for expanding their local food purchasing to more locally produced fruits and vegetables and legumes. So even though it looks small, they have the potential to expand out once they get more comfortable and make more connections. Next slide please. In this example, is also a provider that in early childhood provider who is participating in the $0.10 a meal program. And this provider serves around 53 children a day. Even though they serve less children, as you can see, they are making connections with 19 farms and has sourced quite a bit. They've produced, it's sort of like from A to Z. They've gone from apples to zucchini and 122 cases of fresh, whole, dried or frozen. So even though they have less children, they utilize a lot more farms and this is an amazing example to show what can be done with sourcing local through childcare. And I believe the next speaker is. $0.10 a meal is a state funded program and it helps support local purchasing for early care and education sites, but also, it started with schools and other organizations across Michigan, so it's been expanded to include early care and education. $0.10 a meal provides financial incentive to ECE's and school districts offering and improving meals while also supporting Michigan farmers. So this is really a win-win because it also strengthens the local food systems. It also engages the community, offering the opportunity to collaborate with community members, education, and families while helping children to see their community reflected back to them. Really an amazing program and it's a key component of Michigan Department of Education's full child education approach. It is considered a win-win by legislation as well on all sides of the aisle. So it's a bi-partisan effort and the legislation has grown this from what was a pilot for a quarter million program in to parts of the state, just two parts of the state in 2016 to what's now a 9.3 million dollar program and it's available statewide. So it even doubled funding during the pandemic, which is pretty amazing too. When the legislators were initially concerned about the need to slash budgets. Next slide. You can see this is how it started, how it's going slide. How it began in 2016 on the left-hand side to this $9.3 million state program. And you can see in the 21, 22 school year, over 553,000 children were impacted and we really cover the rest of this information already. I'm trying to see if there's anything else. Okay, Let's go to the next slide in the interest of time. So how does $0.10 a meal work? So it's implemented by the Michigan Department of Education and it's a matching grant. So it provides a 50% reimbursement of funds for purchases, purchases of Michigan grown fruits, vegetables, and dry beans. So an example of this is a $5,000 grant, means a district has committed to spending at least double their grant or $10,000 on local produce or dried beans. That's for a district though. So $5,000, that's a lot of money. And early care and education side is typically not going to spend that much. But the $0.10 part refers to how a maximum grant award is calculated. $0.10 times the total number of reimbursable meals or snacks that were served in the previous year. And that's a bit of a change from how the program has been implemented in recent years due to some changes in legislative language that just increases flexibilities and streamlines the programs. That's all the MDE side of things, not the stuff that our farmers really needs to worry about. What our farmers want to worry about is how can I get produce too early care and education sites and to schools? And what is my role? And so really what the farmers role is, is to be a resource for early care and education sites and farmers to provide that produce and to provide any documentation, receipts so that we know that there's eligible purchases. So it's an awesome resource for schools and ECE sites participating in a USDA nutrition program to get financial support and it's an awesome program for farmers because they can offer their product to schools and easy sites and get local produce and dry beans into those settings. So the types of products that are eligible for the program needs to be fresh or minimally processed. And if processed, they have due process in Michigan. And what that minimally processed means is washed, dried, chopped, frozen, but cannot be canned, cooked, or juiced. Next slide. There is an interactive grantee maps so you can see who as far as the school or an ECE is participating or has been granted $0.10 a meal grantee. And you can see, this is how I can connect with that particular school or ECE site to find out, hey, what can I help, help you source your local product? And it's a great way just to connect. You can reach out to that particular site or you can let them know that you're willing to source for $0.10 a meal. And I think that should take us to procurement for ECE's. Okay. Then it would be back to me. Next slide, please. Okay. So what is procurement and why procurement in a Federal Child Nutrition Program is defined? Sorry about that. Thank you. Starting my video now is a multi-step process for obtaining goods and services at the best possible price. So Popper procurement provides an efficient and equitable use of taxpayer dollars. Reasonable assurance that the Best Buys obtained, and accountability and integrity with the use of federal monies. Next slide, please. So in CAC of p procurement, your provider is because they are in receipt of federal tax dollars, more or less, they have to follow a procurement process when they go out and do their grocery shopping more or less, they are expected to analyze the need. They have to figure out like what's in their market basket, so to speak. Then they have to look around to see where they can get the best bang for their buck. And they do this annually. And they look at what's around them and look at three different vendors. And it can be formal or informal procurement. And typically in the CAA CFP because of the volume that is purchased, it's an informant in formal procurement process compared to schools that have much more volume. So what they do is they shop what they typically would source for a weekly menu. I'm including fruits and vegetables, milk. And then they evaluate the proposals in prices between three vendors nearby. And then based on what they find, they award their business to the store or stores that meets best meet their needs and are more. Economical. The responsibilities of the provider is to maintain documentation of what they purchased so we can verify during an administrative review that they're using federal money efficiently. What the vendor needs to worry about is much less basically, promote yourself to the local provider. Make yourself known. Respond to requests for a quote or proposals with what you produce, and then make sure you only provide the requested information. The terms of an agreement. If an agreement is made, make sure that your responsive vendor and you meet the needs of the contract and what the provider needs. Next slide, please. As we are dealing with federal money and state money in case of the $0.10 of meal program, there are ethical practices in procurement. Provider cannot be swayed by outside influence. They cannot have any conflict of interests. So if there is a conflict of interest that has to be declared upfront, supposed to be a fair and open competition between anyone who is available to source for them. So they cannot accept scholarships, gifts, grants, event tickets are catering and counts and I know that doesn't really apply specifically, but definitely that they cannot accept more than what is ethical for them to receive. So definitely keep that in mind. Next slide, please. One of the things that is allowed in procurement for CAC is coordinated crop planning. It's more than allowable for you to talk with a provider and say, you know, if if I grow this, will you buy it or vice versa, you can come to a coordinated crop planning agreement in advance of the growing season to produce what the sponsor can use in their daily menus. It can be informal or formal procurement depending on annual purchase amount, but it's definitely something that's encouraged to help make connections between producers and providers. Okay. It's, it's me, food safety, food safety and ECE. So we're just gonna do a very quick, quick overview of different aspects of it. And there's a lot more to food safety than what we're covering today, but just just a quick overview. So the easy ease may not have a specified food safety certification or requirement, meaning like Gap or or something like that. And may lean on the federal and state food safety requirements such as Laura or FISMA, which I'll talk about in a second. Then the ECE will set the specifics, food safety requirements or vendor qualifications, and then we'll communicate that through their solicitations for products. So easy, ease that do have requirements will tell you what they are. And you should have an understanding of what your state and federal food safety requirements are. And some things for produce. Fisma is good Safety Modernization Act is a food safety law that applies to all produce farmers. There are exemptions for Business which are outlined on the site. Visit this site. The gaps certification, which stands for good agricultural practices. As a certification, it's a paid audit that you go through that some some some may require, some of the bigger buyers will require. And then there's another food safety thing that you can go through, which is a PSA grow at training, which is produce safety lines and it aligns with FISMA and at fulfills the requirement for some of the FISMA thing. And it will help to kind of reinforce your food safety guidelines and aspects of your food safety. You should consider writing a food safety plan and add any type of business. You should be looking at your food safety plan and make sure that you are not making people sick by what you're doing. And then you can go to the next slide. So the next, this side is where to get some help with that food safety. Msu Extension, Conservation District produce safety technicians and they are the ones that we'll go over some of the On-farm readiness review with you, which is a free service. It's not an audit or an inspection. They can go through that at your site and give you some pointers on how to better your food safety. MDARD, Michigan Department of Ag and rural development. They're the ones that would look at doing the audit spore FISMA. And then there's also your local public health department. And then MIFFS, which is what I'm part of and I'm actually a gap auditors. So if there's any questions that you have on gap audits or where did you get those or how to get involved in group gap, which is a GAP program. I can answer those questions as well. The last slide, well, this map of the produce safety technicians in your area. So these wonderful technicians will help you develop some of those food safety practices that are very beneficial. Yeah, and we'll take questions at the end. But next, we have marketing with Laurie. Hi, Hey, I just wanted to mention too with that conservation district technician. Those also they come to your farm that is free and it's confidential. So that's a great way to get started if you don't have that food safety plan in hand yet. So getting into marketing, working with early care education programs, all this section, we're going to really look at the programs, the benefits, some of the drawbacks that may come along when you're trying to work with ECEs or early care education. And then we'll look at some of the different marketing channels to help you get your products into these centers. Next slide. So let's go through the drawbacks first. Establishing and managing that relationship with your early care education, food services is going to take time. You're going to have to reach out and find out where they are, what are they looking for? It can be challenging when it comes to pricing. So you really have to look at that to make sure that you're maintaining their profitability. When it comes to infrastructure, there may be improvements necessary. Those might be related to food safety standards. That's especially important because the traceability is required to reduce a liability in case of a food-borne illness or an outbreak. They may request deliveries as a drop-off. So that's something that you really want to discuss because that might be part of your pricing as well. If you're going to be bringing things to different centers, what is your payment and is there a potential for lag time? So again, this is one of those things that's really important to have that transparency and communication to coordinate. Some of these things do really have a good understanding of how much you're going to put in and what the price line is going to be, then there's different methods of solicitation that Melissa had spoke. Some can be more complex and tougher to navigate. But again, there's always a way to get through that and we can always be here to assist you with that. Next slide. Let's look at the benefits. So getting your products there in a shorter time. Supply, supply chain component is going to produce a high-quality food that you're going to be giving. So you're going to have high-quality standards there. You're also going to have direct ECE to support relationship-building. So you're going to probably have continued sales. Food hubs, and we'll get into that in the next slide but this can help you with working with them on getting into early care education and preexisting markets that already are there. Food hubs, also, they look for smaller, are they allow the smaller firms to aggravate the products. This is especially important if you need refrigeration. It also is really important for early career centers because they often want certain specifications and standards that meet their populations, such as the thumb in some of these food hubs do and some don't. But the dicing or the sizing of the different products that they have. There's an opportunity to promote your farm and expand your business. And then there's an opportunity differentiate your value. And it could be you getting involved with that early care and education, possibly visiting that classroom when doing an activity with them. And again, in Michigan, these benefits really they support our farmers are local economies. And then they provide that quality and nutritious food to our children. Next slide. This is from USDA. And this is just talking about that they know they affirmed early care education and really increases the quality of the food, the nutrition, and the agricultural related education that these children receive. It also helps them with the acceptance of some of these foods from our local food systems. And it positively influences child, the child, the family, and the provider for healthy behaviors in the future. So again, this is something that we do through the state, but USDA is very much involved as well in marketing and putting forth the importance of early care education and farm to farm to school or farm to early care education. Next slide. So this really gets into where you're gonna go in, as Megan said, grocery stores are the number one place. We do sometimes in grocery stores see a sign that said made in Michigan. So you may be able to get that if you're looking at $0.10 a meal, you would need to know that farm, not just that it was made in Michigan or grown in Michigan. Grocery stores, local markets again, are the tap purchasing venue. Farmers markets, though are often used in a great place for them to get those fresh foods. There's also the community supported agriculture or your CSAs. These can allow to place purchasing a head and then they can provide the box to them of the products that you have. Then again, looking into food hubs, This seems to be a big way for early care education programs and for farmers because they can aggregate and distribute these regionally foods from multiple producers. So you could be one of those producers and you're going to one place, you're bringing them in. They can take care of it, then they can distribute those to those early care education centers. So often these are for, they need smaller quantities. Again, the products might to be cutter managed to be for that particular age, which the food hubs can help you with. And so it's a one place. So instead of going to several different venues in which will save you on time, again, you have to look at these and you really have to choose what market channel is best for. You. Also want to mention what the CAC is. There is an Alan Foundation grant right now. It's a good opportunity for family-based childcare and CSAs. And Garrett Ziegler, Mariel is going to put it in the chat right now, is the contact for that. So if you're interested in that grant or information on that. Next slide, please. So this slide is from tastes, a local difference and it's spotlights food hubs in Michigan. So this is a location that you could actually go to where it says find local food and farms and view listings. And you could go under there and this would be a place you possibly could also list your farm in Michigan and in the UP, all the way to Detroit. There are about 12 food helps supporting regional farms right now and food businesses. Most of these food hubs are part of what they call the Michigan food hub network that fosters the collaboration innovation and that's been going on for over ten years. So each food hub contributes to building the stronger relationships for regional food systems. They offer different unique services. So that's one of the things you really have to look into is which we have might fit your needs, and which are local. Next slide. So excuse me. What do you need to be prepared for? Again, as John had talked about, knowing your food safety, knowing you have to have traceability. Having those crops harvest. That's going to be something either advertising yourself as to what you can offer or finding out from the early career education, what are the things that they're looking for? And so you'll know what to grow. Working on that fair price, you have that break-even mark. Then it's important you're going to have to have the invoicing system for payment processes in hand. So make it easy and consistent as possible for the early care education buyer for yourself. Some of these topics, just so you know, they were also presented in, excuse me, other webinars earlier in this conference. So those will be posted and will be available if you want to have more details on them. The last slide, just want to thank everybody, give you all our contact information and open it to questions. Okay, so feel free to ask questions in the chat or unmute your microphone, whichever you're more comfortable with. And I know that some folks joined mid presentation, so just a reminder that we are recording this and we'll have it available for you on the conference website as soon as they get it all closed captioned and ready to go. So it'll probably be a few weeks, but you can catch up what you missed. Just on that same website that you registered for the conference on. While we're waiting for questions to come in as well, I'm going to pull up the QR code for our evaluation survey. But actually I'll go back to this slide to say that we have a list of resources and contacts here, as well as the contacts that were provided on the slide before. And we know that's a lot for you to write down. If you would like those resources and contacts emailed to you, please feel free to drop your email in the chat and we will send those to you directly.