When AFSC first set out to develop a Farm to Early Childhood Education (ECE) program, we wanted to support the local farmers we had worked with over many years and to reach young children--such as the low-income children in Head Start—who don’t often get access to healthy, organic local vegetables and fruits.
Research shows that the earlier a child is exposed to healthy foods, the more likely it is that healthy eating habits will be formed. These habits are protective of long-term health and have the potential to help close racial and socioeconomic health disparities.
Our Farm to Preschool work centers the voices of local, organic small farms and early childhood educators & staff. After several years of trial and error, we have found a successful model that works well in New Mexico: healthy food campaigns. These campaigns encourage kids to try healthy, local vegetables in an exciting special event. Each child is rewarded for trying the vegetable with a sticker. Teachers and staff participate, modeling healthy eating for the children. AFSC provides activities, stickers, posters, and vegetables. Many schools have devoted a whole day to the campaign’s vegetable.
AFSC provides each school with the materials at no cost. We believe this aspect is vital since institutions usually must choose food based on the lowest prices. Subsidizing these campaigns evens the playing field for small organic farms who are treating the earth and workers well. These farms are not subsidized by the federal government like many large farms.
For small-scale sustainable family farms, the orders for these vegetables are a great match for their production levels. Farmers have expressed how excited they are to get their nutritious veggies to young children in their community. One farmer, who went to Head Start herself and grew up on processed food, was excited to grow carrots for the Great Carrot Crunch. She imagined how positive it would have been for her as a small child to get exposed to healthy foods early.