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Local Food for Little Eaters: Statewide Network Brings Coordinated Efforts to Michigan Farm to Early Care and Education

By Meagan Shedd, Assistant Professor, Farm to Early Care and K-12 Education, MSU CRFS

July 16, 2019

Early care and education (ECE) programs across the state have worked tirelessly to bring the benefits of local food into their programs, from Kalamazoo to Detroit. Now, the Michigan Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) Network is hoping to bring statewide support to these efforts. The Michigan Farm to ECE Network has met three times since the beginning of 2019 to collaborate across state agencies and within communities to grow farm to ECE.

Beginning with a survey of Michigan food, health, and early childhood systems, partners in the Network then engaged in initial meetings to brainstorm potential collaborators and think carefully about how to leverage both community-level and state-level momentum. Network members at the first meeting also approved a network purpose statement, modeled after the Michigan Farm to Institution Network, and identified potential work groups to allow members to take more active roles.

At the second meeting, members drafted goals for each work group to help guide and connect existing initiatives around the state. The preliminary goals of the Network intend to address all three core elements of farm to ECE - procurement, nutrition education, and family engagement - and leverage the successes of existing farm to ECE sites. Through this process, members hope to identify promising practices with an eye toward replication within communities, and then statewide.

One goal of this work is to leverage community-level initiatives to build capacity for statewide farm to ECE momentum. To this end, Center for Regional Food Systems (CRFS) is helping to facilitate Procurement Pilots in three priority communities - Battle Creek, Detroit and Grand Rapids. In collaboration with several community partners participating with the MI Farm to ECE Network, the pilots may demonstrate how groups can come together to use collective buying power and increase access to local, affordable, healthy and fair food for ECE sites. Partners in the work include Keep Growing Detroit, Battle Creek Shared Services Alliance, and the Early Learning Neighborhood Collaborative in Grand Rapids. These organizations are identifying promising practices within their communities, and they are paving the way for sharing services, resources, and supports within local communities and beyond to benefit the education, health, and well-being of the populations they serve. 

Additional goals of the Michigan Farm to ECE Network include:

  • increase the number of standards/best practices in ECE policies tied to farm to ECE
  • increase the amount of local food purchased for consumption in ECE sites
  • evaluate resources used by providers and state agencies

Members of the network are enthusiastic and well positioned for systems work that benefits the youngest citizens of Michigan, as well as their families and communities. Existing and potential members can support MI Farm to ECE Network efforts by attending a network meeting to learn more about how they can become involved. This might include sharing resources as organizations develop them (such as events and workshops), connecting ECE sites with farmers and producers, and sharing best practices within and between communities as part of network events.

Interested learning more about how you can contribute to this work? Contact Meagan Shedd at mshedd@msu.edu to learn more about the Michigan Farm to ECE Network and take a look at the recent MSU Center for Regional Food Systems publication, Local Food for Little Eaters: A Purchasing Toolbox for the Child & Adult Care Program.