Farm to Early Care and Education: Championing Young Learners

HealthMPowers has a long history of engagement in farm to school programming. Most recently, the organization was awarded grant funding support from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Forrest Ann Anderson, Health Educator- Elementary,  stepped into the role of Farm to School Specialist to coordinate these efforts and has been hard at work utilizing funds to increase the number of learning environments throughout Georgia that implement sustainable farm to school activities.

As part of her work, Forrest Ann is a member of the Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) Coalition. The coalition’s mission is to cultivate partnerships among early care environments, farmers, and community partners to increase local food access, strengthen nutrition education, and improve health equity for families. The Coalition has released its first impact report to illustrate the importance of this work and how it contributes to the health and well-being of Georgia’s youngest learners.

Describe your experience working as the Farm to School Specialist at HealthMPowers.
As the Farm to School Specialist, I work with K12 schools, ECE sites and out of school time (OST) sites. Some of my experiences include coordinating edible raised garden bed installations, leading taste tests, and creating and facilitating farm to school trainings. I have learned so much since taking this position at the beginning of the school year. I love seeing how the students and staff members have gotten so involved in their garden projects, and I’m excited to continue working with these sites to encourage growth in their farm to school work.

What exactly is farm to school and why is it important?
Farm to school, inclusive of farm to ECE, aims to strengthen the connection students and their families have with nutritious foods by giving them opportunities to learn about and experience it first-hand. This can look like a lot of different things depending on the school or center, including serving locally grown items on the school food menu, hosting taste tests and cooking activities, planting school gardens, working with local farmers and community members, or updating policy and curriculum to include farm to school topics. This work is important because not only does it provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables to students, but it also increases their preference for fruits and vegetables, making them more likely to choose to eat them now and later in life, which can eventually lead to them influencing future generations to do the same.

What are some examples of the impactful experiences you’ve had in your role?
My favorite experiences are always seeing students get excited about fruits and vegetables. This has most often been in the form of taste testing something they’ve grown in their garden and seeing them realize how fun it is to eat something they grew. I also love when they tell me they went home and ate the same things they tried at school, or that they now eat it in the cafeteria because it shows that factor of sustainability.

How does farm to school teach kids about the importance of growing their food and where their food comes from?
Farm to school provides kids direct knowledge about how food is grown through hands-on learning that is often incorporated into the curriculum, especially taste tests and garden experiences. This gives them a deeper connection to and familiarity with fruits and vegetables. This deeper connection and familiarity results in them choosing to consume more fruits and vegetables.

How did you feel when you read the Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education Coalition and the Georgia Farm to School Alliance 2021 Annual Impact Report?
It was incredible to see the impact that farm to ECE has had over this past year! I love seeing real numbers and data about how far and wide the reach of this program really is. The report really highlighted how many people and organizations are going above and beyond to ensure our kids are provided nutrition education and access to fresh, local foods from the earliest age possible.

What do you see as the future of farm to school?
Georgia is currently one of the national leaders in farm to school work, with almost half of the districts here implementing some component of the program. I hope we are on our way to seeing farm to school become a standardized practice across the whole state in the near future.