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Partnership connects kids, farmers to promote healthy eating habits

The Farm to Early Care pilot project included fresh, locally grown, healthy menu items and snacks, a center garden, classroom curriculum, interaction with nearby farmers, and community involvement.

EP Agriculture
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ALEXANDRIA — More Minnesota children are learning about how their food is grown — and how they can eat healthy - thanks to an innovative partnership of child care providers, local farmers and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The Minnesota Farm to Early Care Network implemented a 12-month pilot project that tapped into strong interest among child care providers to connect children to local farmers and healthy eating. Demand for the project’s six-month grants increased between the first round in 2021 and the second round in 2022 to greatly exceed available funding. During the first round in 2021, 14 out of 94 applications were funded. In 2022, 32 of 459 grant applications were funded.

“We’re excited that through this effort, young children are connecting with nutritious, locally grown foods, while at the same time the farmers in our communities are supported,” Cherylee Sherry, health systems supervisor, MDH Office of Statewide Health Improvement Initiatives, said in a press release. “We saw such strong interest among parents and teachers that we received more grant applications from child care centers and in-home providers than ever before.”

Farm to Early Care advocates from around the state began working together formally in 2014 to support and grow Farm to Early Care in Minnesota. Farm to Early Care has three main tenets: Food and farming-related education, gardening and purchasing local food. The pilot project was funded by the Association of State Public Health Nutritionists and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Given the positive results of the pilot project, the Minnesota Farm to Early Care Network will continue to work with local early childhood leaders to discuss additional strategies for promoting Farm to Early Care statewide.

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Erin McKee, community food systems program director from the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and member of the Minnesota Farm to Early Care Network, said the funds reached at least 694 children representing seven child care centers and 24 in-home child care providers across the state.

“This pilot project shows the untapped potential and strong interest in providing farm-to-early-care grants in Minnesota, and how working directly with young children in child care can both support farmers and promote the importance of healthful eating,” McKee said in a press release.

The Farm to Early Care pilot project included fresh, locally grown, healthy menu items and snacks, a center garden, classroom curriculum, interaction with nearby farmers, and community involvement. With these grant funds, teachers introduced children to locally grown food items. The children learned about the food, the farm and the farmer, healthy eating, gardening, and much, much more. The children also had the opportunity to participate in taste testing and cooking projects, read books about nutrition, gardening, healthy habits, and grow a garden.

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