Portland, Ore., May 13, 2014– Ecotrust is pleased to announce the launch of a new project that will strengthen connections between preschool-aged children and healthy, local foods. The Farm to Preschool Learning Community will consist of mini-grants for child care providers and partners to support new and expanding farm to preschool projects in Oregon. Ecotrust will also provide technical assistance and facilitate peer-to-peer learning for a network of early child care and education (ECE) providers.
Farm to preschool programs connect early child care and education settings with local farmers, ranchers, fishermen, and food processors, with the goals of increasing access to and consumption of healthy local foods, educating young children about where their foods come from, and supporting thriving regional food economies. These programs help shape behaviors in our youngest children, impacting later eating habits and preferences, and supporting the long-term health of our children, families, and communities.
“A 2012 national survey of farm to preschool programs showed a clear need for seed funding for these efforts,” says Stacey Sobell, Farm to School Manager at Ecotrust. “Oregon’s state farm to school and school garden grants are only available to K-12 school districts, and something similar was needed for early care settings. We know from our experience working at the K-12 level that a small amount of start-up funding, accompanied by access to resources and technical assistance, can really jump-start a movement.”
Ecotrust was one of the first organizations in the country to pilot a farm to preschool program, in partnership with the Oregon Child Development Coalition, in 2008. Ecotrust now leads the national farm to preschool initiative on behalf of the National Farm to School Network (NFSN), which has acted as a lead convener and facilitator, advancing the farm to preschool movement at a national level for the last three years.
In Oregon, farm to preschool efforts are supported through the Oregon Farm to School & School Garden Network, which includes over 400 members. This Network meets annually to share resources, make connections, and advance farm to school and farm to preschool efforts across the state.
Ecotrust is dedicated to building a robust regional food economy that offers fresh, healthy food for all. Farm to preschool is one piece of Ecotrust’s larger efforts to connect big buyers (schools, preschools, hospitals, universities, and other institutions) with local food, boost mid-sized farms to supply these institutional markets, and address gaps in infrastructure and distribution, so that food can move efficiently from grower to market.
Ecotrust hopes that these mini grants will not only connect more young children and their families with healthy, local foods, but also inspire early child care settings to explore innovative practices for the procurement of local foods (such as cooperative purchasing) and cultivate a learning community to grow and strengthen the farm to preschool movement in Oregon. Ultimately, the aim is to cultivate programs and partnerships that can serve as innovative models for farm to preschool in Oregon and beyond.
“We are seeing tremendous growth in the farm to preschool movement at a national level,” says NFSN Executive Director and Co-Founder Anupama Joshi. “And Oregon has been a leader in this realm since early on. I look forward to this next phase of their efforts, and to the possibility of Ecotrust’s Farm to Preschool Learning Community serving as a model for others around the country.”
All types of ECE settings and agencies and non-profits working directly with an ECE site in Oregon are invited to apply. Awards will be made in early summer and will range from $500-2,000. The Request for Applications, along with farm to preschool resources, is available at: http://www.farmtopreschool.org/states/or.html. Applications are due June 9, 2014. To learn more about Ecotrust’s Farm to School program, visit: https://ecotrust.org/project/farm-to-school/.