Farm to School Works to Make Healthy Habits Take Root Early

Census data indicate that 1,516 districts are bringing local foods into preschool programs, which means nationwide 32% of school districts with farm to school programs are reaching even the youngest learners. Children’s preferences develop early so early childhood is the ideal time to establish healthy eating habits.

Farm to school activities by grade

Sowing Seeds of Success

Buying local food for pre-K and other early childcare programs can:

  • Educate children about local farming and food systems;
  • Influence eating habits and food preferences during formative years;
  • Improve the quality of foods served in the program;
  • Improve healthy food access and nutrition, preventing obesity and obesity-related diseases;
  • Support local farmers and Increase market opportunities for producers; and,
  • Increase community engagement in child nutrition programs.

Let's Move Child Care

USDA is a proud partner of the First Lady’s Let’s Move initiative, which works to ensure that our youngest children live and learn in environments where healthy habits are the norm instead of the exception. More than 10,000 child care centers across the country are benefiting from the Let’s Move Child Care program.

Harvesting Best Practices

An article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetic shows that children exposed to the activities and foods highlighted in the Harvest for Healthy Kids resources have greater willingness to try and like target foods. The Harvest for Healthy Kids activity kits include lesson plans, picture cards, recipes and newsletters, all developed by teachers and childcare providers to inspire children to eat and learn about healthy food grown close to home.

Farm to Preschool is Taking Root in the Southeast

In Georgia and North Carolina, 63% and 64% of districts participating in farm to school are also reaching preschoolers. Both states have strong community partnerships that support farm to preschool efforts. North Carolina coordinates collaborations through the North Carolina Farm to Preschool Network, which involves SHAPE NC, Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project, North Carolina CACFP and many other statewide and local organizations. While Georgia also has strong partnerships in place, most notably with Georgia Organics and the Georgia Department of Agriculture, the state has taken steps to institutionalize farm to preschool efforts with a Farm to Preschool Summit and garden and nutrition education trainings. 

USDA Support

Starting in fiscal year 2016, several USDA Farm to School grants have provided funding to help get local foods into early childcare settings.  In addition, USDA’s Team Nutrition Training Grants provide support for nutrition education initiatives in both school and child care environments. Team Nutrition offers many no-cost educational materials like Healthy Eating for Preschoolers and Nutrition and Wellness Tips for Young Children which can help adults get children off to the right start. Grow It! Try It! Like It!, a garden-themed nutrition education kit, featuring MyPlate, and the Two Bite Club, a storybook introducing new foods and encouraging taste testing, are both excellent resources for introducing healthy eating habits in any early care setting.