Farm to ECE During Iowa's Cold, Dark Winter
Annual field trips to pumpkin patches and apple orchards have been checked off the list, fall produce has been harvested, and the gardens are officially down for a long winter’s nap. Instead of making applesauce with children, you’re baking and decorating cookies. You’d like to continue serving local produce, but it’s Iowa. How does one do that in the winter? Is it even possible to build on the Farm to ECE momentum that was created during the growing season?
Farm to ECE is more than gardening and farm field trips. It is more than serving local fruits and vegetables. Farm to ECE strategies and activities offer increased access to all types of healthy, local foods (not just produce), nutrition and agricultural education opportunities, parent and community engagement, and promotion of other healthy behaviors such as active play. This wide definition offers multiple opportunities to continue a Farm to ECE program all year long, even during the winter.
Serving Local Foods
Purchase milk, butter, yogurt, or cheese from an Iowa dairy. If buying individual containers of local yogurt is cost prohibitive, consider buying bulk containers and serving as an ingredient in smoothies or parfaits.
Source bulk meat from an Iowa farmer. If participating in CACFP, the meat must be USDA inspected in order for it to be creditable.
Don’t forget about local grains or dry, edible beans.
Consider purchasing local condiments such as honey, pasta sauce, or salsa.
Some farmers provide greenhouse or hydroponically grown produce year-round. Usual offerings include: lettuce, microgreens, tomatoes, cucumbers, and herbs.
Start making connections with local farmers to make plans to purchase more local produce during the spring, summer, and fall.
Use products that were frozen during the growing season.
Add play fruits and vegetables and other garden props to the dramatic play area
Maintain a year-round garden curriculum
Add a nutrition education component to holiday celebrations
Incorporate these printable ABC Veggie and Fruit Fact Cards to teach literacy, science, math, and art.
Winter time is when child care providers need to be even more intentional about providing opportunities for children to be physically active for a minimum of 60 minutes each day. Here are some resources to help:
Indoor or Greenhouse Gardening
Try indoor gardening with grow lights. The harvest likely won’t be large enough to use in a meal program, but it would make a great cooking or taste testing activity. For instance, basil could be used to make and taste pesto.
If space allows, small greenhouses can be purchased affordably and are a great way to start seedlings or grow vegetables and herbs year-round.
Family and Community Engagement
Ask for healthy recipe contributions from families and assemble a cookbook.
Include Farm to ECE activities in the weekly newsletter to families.
Host healthy freezer meal workshops.
Teach a garden class to families.
Invite a local farmer to come speak to the kids about his/her job.
If nothing else, use these winter months to plan for spring. Use seed catalogs to plan, get kids involved by sketching their dream layouts, and get volunteer time and supply needs organized by reaching out to parents and other community members.