AMES, Iowa – The Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition is on a mission: to increase access to locally grown food and food education for children and families. By forging cross-sector partnerships, the coalition is advancing programs and policies in schools and settings that provide early care and education, often referred to as ECE. These settings include preschools, childcare centers, family childcare homes, and Head Start programs.
Over the past three years, the Farm to ECE Implementation Grant from the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists has bolstered the coalition’s endeavors.
Krista Smith is the farm to early care and education coordinator with Iowa State University Extension and Outreach’s Community and Economic Development program. Smith said, “The grant has allowed us to positively impact 2,200 children, 27 ECEs and 192 ECE professionals through a range of new and expanded programs and services.”
Through the support of the Farm to ECE Implementation Grant, the coalition developed Local Food Makes Cents, a grant program that incentivized ECE providers with a substantial $43,000 in cost reimbursement to purchase local foods directly from farmers, farmers markets or dedicated food hubs.
“Early childhood providers are keen on local food but face budgetary and networking challenges. This grant bridged that gap,” said Smith.
The coalition also used the Farm to ECE Implementation Grant to expand the Iowa Farm to School Producer Directory, connecting ECEs with local farmers and food producers.
“Through these initiatives and programs, we’ve connected early care and education settings with local food producers, introducing nutrient-rich, locally grown food to our children. These connections also give farmers, producers and aggregators access to a vast market, which helps create jobs and strengthens local economies,” said Smith.
Farm to ECE Implementation Grant funds also enabled the coalition to host the Annual Farm to School and Early Care Conferences and update and expand statewide Farm to ECE Trainings, an effort that helped make learning accessible to all through virtual formats.
In addition to learning opportunities, funding from the grant was used to develop an equity plan for the coalition’s Farm to ECE work. In a step toward community inclusion, the coalition used the grant funds to translate its Choose Iowa Food of the Month Campaign, which spotlights locally grown food, into Spanish.
“The initiatives supported by the Farm to ECE Implementation Grant from the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists have benefited everyone, from students to local food producers. They’re about community, economy and connection. We’re deeply grateful for the grant’s transformative impact over the past three years and look forward to building on the seeds it has sown,” Smith said.
For more information, visit the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition website.
Photo 1 credit: A child enjoys local blueberries at Stratford Early Learning Center. Community and Economic Development - Food Systems original image.
Photo 2 credit: Girl with fresh produce bought at outdoor farmers market by Monkey Business/stock.adobe.com.