Currently it’s sweet pea season in New Mexico, so we created “Give Peas a Chance,” our fourth healthy food campaign. AFSC brings free, organic peas to Head Start and other preschools serving low-income children, along with activity guides that focus on vegetables, growing food and healthy eating.
Every child who eats a local sweet pea gets a sticker. Staff and parents told us they were delighted that their children were eating vegetables grown by farmers in their communities.
“We had a girl who was very scared of trying the peas, but once the stickers you gave us came out, she tried it,” one teacher said. “All the kids tried them!” Another teacher added, “Some of the children did not want to try the peas, but after observing their peers, all of the children tasted them.”
Chris Chávez of Casa Fresco Farm harvests sweat peas. (Photo: AFSC New Mexico)
Part of the work of AFSC New Mexico is making sure that people have access to healthy food, regardless of income, while supporting the economic viability of local, small-scale, sustainable farms. One of the ways we do this with our farm-to-school programs.
Research shows that when children develop a taste for healthy food at a young age, it can improve their quality of life, which is especially important because of the U.S. epidemic of childhood obesity and juvenile diabetes. To that end, we have created healthy food campaigns and partnered with local farmers and preschools to get young children excited about eating vegetables. Our motto is “Kids Win When Farmers and Schools Work Together.”
Teachers as "essential workers"
We also recognize the great sacrifices that teachers--deemed “essential workers”—have made during the pandemic, risking their own health to care for young children. Women of color make up the majority of early childhood educators, and their pay is very low. In New Mexico, 65% of lead teachers and 55% of assistant directors make less than $30,000 per year.
We also know that the first few years of a child’s life are very formative, and these women play a crucial role. The teachers we partner with have supported our young children to eat healthy, and several of them made an entire day out of the Give Peas a Chance healthy food activities we provided.
“The children liked counting the number of peas inside,” one teacher told us. “Staff were happy to have fresh veggies to taste as well.” Another teacher added, “The children loved eating the peas, and staff enjoyed the connection with local growers.” A third shared, “My students love peas; they call them ‘babies’ and enjoy eating them piece by piece.”
AFSC New Mexico has been developing great relationships with the teachers, who have helped us create our healthy food activities. We plan to publish a guide in the fall documenting this work, making sure to amplify the voices of the teachers and the farmers.
Teachers in New Mexico support AFSC's Give Peas a Chance campaign. (Photo: AFSC New Mexico)