• Staci Hemesath, RDN, LD

Local Procurement Strategies to Support Farm to Early Care and Education

Focusing on the specific learning styles, needs, and environments for children aged birth through 8 years old, Farm to Early Care and Education centers on three core elements: hands-on learning, gardening, and access to fresh local food. The confusion and ever-changing circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 crisis forces us to view these three core elements through a new lens, out of necessity and with opportunity.

Shifting purchasing practices to support the people who feed our communities can offer emergent strategies for local food security and economic resilience in these unprecedented times. Outlined in depth in this North Carolina State Extension resource, “Farm to Early Care and Education Local Food Purchasing Guide,” numerous sources of local food exist to supply the specific needs of ECE sites. The resources and methods offered below function as an abbreviated guide to local food purchasing for ECE sites during this current health crisis, but are also viable sources in non-emergency times.

As we continue to adapt to and navigate this new-normal, we encourage ECE sites and professionals to reach out to ISU Extension and Outreach for resources and support. The Farm, Food, and Enterprise Development Program can offer consultation around a variety of food systems questions and concerns. We thank ECE providers for the essential care and critical role they play now, and always.

Resources for Finding Local Food

Purchase through a Food Hub: A Food Hub is a centrally located facility that purchases and aggregates local food from numerous farms, then stores, sometimes processes, and distributes to local or regional purchasers. Food safety measures are strictly followed, and consumers can trace product origin if they choose. The Iowa Food Hub Directory lists location, product, and contact information for food hubs actively serving Iowa communities.

Order from a Farm Online or for Delivery: Some farms and food hubs offer delivery services. Examples include farms, like WW Homestead Dairy and Country View Dairy, and food hubs, such as the Iowa Food Cooperative and Prudent Produce. If you regularly purchase from a farm, ask them about delivering to your site.

Join a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): In the CSA model, purchasers (aka “share-holders” or members) pay up-front for a share of a farm’s production for an entire growing season and receive (often through delivery or convenient pick-up) a weekly box of seasonal farm products. By directly selling to community members who paid in advance, growers receive better prices, gain some financial security, and are relieved of much of the burden of marketing. ISU Extension maintains the Iowa CSA Farm Directory. Just search for your site by region.

Shop at a Local Farmers Market: With multiple farmers gathering in the same location and selling on a regular basis, farmers markets are a great choice for ECE sites as providers can choose exactly what local food they want to try while directly meeting farmers. However, as a large gathering site, the status of this spring’s farmer market season remains unclear. While some farmers markets will be deemed “essential services” to allow their operation, it's likely that many farmers markets will not open or will shift to other models this year. For the latest updates, check-out the Iowa Farmers Market Directory, maintained by IDALS.

Connect Directly with Local Farmers Near You: Specific to several regions across Iowa, local food directories exist to connect consumers directly with farmers and their product. Resources from Practical Farmers of Iowa and the Regional Food System Working Group are listed below.

Written by Chelsea Krist, Farm to School Program Coordinator with FFED who supports the Iowa Farm to School and Early Care Coalition, evaluation, consultations and training; connect at cekrist@iastate.edu.

With contributions from Teresa Wiemerslage, field specialist with FFED who specializes in farm to school, farm to institution, food hubs, and on-farm food safety; connect at wiemer@iastate.edu.

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