We can all look back on our early childhood days and remember nursery rhymes, building blocks, and naptime… but what about gardening? There’s no reason not to start early, with farm to school education!
Early childhood education institutions such as child care centers, preschools, and head starts can offer farm to school programming. To get started, all a school needs to do is begin with gardening – whether through connecting with local farms, lesson plan integration, or simply by building a garden. Whatever the opportunity, the most important factor is giving students a chance to connect to local food and healthy eating.
Early childhood education centers also are eligible for the Arkansas School Garden Grant Program, funded by the USDA. Schools can use the grant to support, expand, or sustain their gardens. Alternatively, other opportunities exist for funding across communities. Some schools have a line-item budget from their Parent Teacher Association, others take advantage of nearby partnerships with local businesses, and farms. The Farm to School Team at the Arkansas Department of Agriculture can also work with your center to help you apply for the funding you need. Check out the report the Team wrote about how to expand farm to school in early childhood education facilities.
School gardens are especially beneficial to developing minds. Garden-based activities can help students learn and improve in their development, from motor skills to social and emotional development, to creative play, even language. Dr. Deborah Bergeron, former Office of Head Start and the Office of Early Childhood Development Director, notes that, “Growing herbs and produce can encourage healthy eating habits that help their bodies grow.” Not only do gardens allow children to develop healthy minds and bodies, but they also provide opportunities for more parent engagement and community centered events.
Currently, 48 early childhood education centers have farm to school programs. Pike View Early Childhood Education Center uses the program to help students establish healthy eating habits at an early age. During the year, each class gardens a bed that they plant in the fall and spring. This approach has helped students get excited about eating their fruits and vegetables!
Kiddie Kollege in Alma uses their garden to teach about sustainability. They aspire to create a lasting garden and embed the farm to school spirit within the culture of their school. They have created raised beds, containers, a green house, and a hoop house, all of which grow a variety of fruits, vegetables, herbs, and flowers. They also have a garden committee to ensure that lessons and activities in the garden meet the Arkansas Child Development and Early Learning Standards.
If you are interested in bringing school gardening to growing minds, visit the Getting Started and Action Planning page on arfarmtoschool.org to learn more! The benefits of school gardening are truly limitless, and each program can be catered to your institution’s needs. There isn’t a wrong time to begin your program, so don’t wait! It’s never too early to teach the importance of local, healthy food, and to make interactive education available to your students.