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Farm to Childcare Program Expands Across Minnesota

PHOTO: A program that helps bring fresh, local foods to child care centers in Minnesota is expanding. CREDIT: New Horizon Academy
June 19. 2013
PHOTO: A program that helps bring fresh, local foods to child care centers in Minnesota is expanding. CREDIT: New Horizon Academy

ST. PAUL, Minn. - What started last year as a pilot program to bring fresh local food to child-care centers in Minnesota now has expanded to include more than five dozen sites.

Farm to Childcare is an initiative between the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy and New Horizon Academy. Cara Johnson-Bader, New Horizon's director of parent experiences, said it's important to introduce these foods early, since children form their taste preferences between the ages of 3 and 5.

"If we can get children to eat fruits and vegetables every day and really enjoy them," she said, "we know it will create a lifelong healthy habit."

In all, 62 New Horizon Academy centers across Minnesota are taking part in Farm to Childcare, reaching about 7,500 children.

In addition to serving the local foods, Johnson-Bader said, the program also teaches children about farming, cooking and healthy eating with a variety of activities. Parents are provided with support tools so the efforts can continue at home.

"They receive a suggested booklet," she said. "They'll receive recipes, cooking activities - and so we really feel that this program will strengthen children's knowledge about and attitude toward food, nutrition and the environment."

The Farm to Childcare program is only at the New Horizon Academy sites so far, but Erin McKee VanSlooten, program associate for the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, said they expect to add more sites after they publish the curriculum package later this summer, "complete with all of the teaching materials and the lessons that we learned from doing the pilot.

"Our hope is that others can use our model to start or expand their own farm to childcare program - not just in Minnesota, but throughout the country."

The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy also has supported the Farm to School program, which is now in place in nearly 150 school districts across the state.

More information is online at iatp.org.

John Michaelson, Public News Service - MN