Los Angeles Preschoolers Enjoy Harvest of the Month from Local Farms

Written by Rosa Romero, MEd – Farm to Preschool Director, Urban & Environmental Policy Institute

There is an exciting new Farm to Preschool Pilot underway in Los Angeles! Since 2009, the Farm to Preschool (F2P) Program at the Urban & Environmental Policy Institute at Occidental College (UEPI) has partnered with Pacific Asian Consortium in Employment Early Childhood Education (PACE ECE) to develop curriculum to promote healthy eating and an understanding of where food comes from. PACE ECE operates 14 fully licensed Head Start State Preschool child-care and development centers serving 1,110 children age three to five throughout Los Angeles. Over the past few years UEPI and PACE ECE developed a comprehensive model Wellness Policy for Healthy Eating and Physical Activity that incorporates mandated policies such as making drinking water available to students indoors and outdoors (Assembly Bill 2084), offering nutrition and health education classes for parents (Head Start  Performance Standards: 1304.23d) as well as specific F2P components of incorporating local foods into meals and snacks, weekly nutrition lessons, taste tests, gardening, and connecting with regional farmers through field-trips to farms and farmers’ market and classroom visits by farmers. This model wellness policy has been used to train dozens of preschools in the Los Angeles area on how to create similar policies at their sites.

To implement the Farm to Preschool components of their wellness policy, UEPI facilitated a partnership between PACE ECE and Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA) —a farmers’ market operator with a mission to build sustainable food systems and promote improved fresh food access— to pilot a Harvest of Month (HOTM) /Farmer in the Classroom project. Beginning in May 2016 select PACE ECE classrooms received Avocados from J. Davis Farm in Fallbrook, CA.  The students participated in taste tests and recipe demonstrations showcasing salads, wraps and guacamole. The teachers, parents and students praised the project, saying that the local avocados sparked many discussions including talks about seeds, trees and other green vegetables. Julia Rauter, the Nutrition Coordinator at PACE ECE, commented that “through this project children were able to experience eating a healthy vegetable in many new and interesting ways while also drawing connections to larger learning concepts.”

This Fall, the project will expand to other PACE sites and participating farmers will conduct visits in the Spring. In addition, each site is building a learning garden to accompany the F2P HOTM curriculum to create more hands-on experiences with food.  Rauter further explained that “programs such as our partnership with SEE-LA and UEPI at Occidental College, are excellent at sparking interest in the minds of our children. Through taste tests and Harvest of the Month activities children learn to value fruits and vegetables, which helps to increase their willingness to eat them. Not only does this lead to them trying new healthy foods, but often times the children’s enthusiasm is contagious and carries over into their household when they go home and share their experiences with their families.  Over time, this can help to create positive changes in the minds of our families and get them to embrace healthier eating and appreciating locally sourced produce, which is a great step in the right direction when faced with all-time highs in obesity rates and nutrition-related chronic diseases.”

On the farmer side of the project, Alyssa Seibert, the Program Coordinator for SEE-LA’s Bring the Farmer to your School program explained that these types of partnerships, “help small farmers with supplemental income and provide meaningful experiences for farmers to see the educational components of their work. They feel like they don’t just grow the produce for school but are truly giving back and sharing knowledge with the young ones.” Seibert went on to explain that the most successful projects are when specialized partnerships develop. “This project is successful because UEPI has already developed a complementary curriculum and provides the teachers with training and technical expertise. Because PACE ECE sees the value of this type of programming and are 100% on board, they are willing to do all they can to ensure the full success of the pilot and help with logistics like storage and delivery of the produce. And we [SEE-LA] are able to use our connections with local farmers to provide the produce for the classroom experiences. This project is successful because all the partners bring something to the table and are dedicated to establishing healthy eating habits at an early age while supporting California farmers.”

Visit our Farm to Preschool page to learn more.

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