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Children's Center participates in Farm to Childcare Program
Children's Center participates in Farm to Childcare Program

The Children’s Center and The Planning Council of Norfolk are partnering in a “farm to childcare (F2CC)” program that is bringing fresh produce to the menu at the Southampton Head Start Center in Courtland.

Marissa Spady, a Nutrition Specialist and Project Manager, said the Planning Council became involved in the program after gathering some data and conducting research.

“There are other farm to childcare programs around the country that are working. We did some research and then applied for a planning grant with the Obici Healthcare Foundation to pull our farmers together,” she said. “We got to know them and talk to some childcare providers who might be interested. We found that people were interested and wanted to participate, but had never really thought about it. We made those connections and thought being here in a rural area, why wouldn’t it work?”

The Children’s Center’s Southampton Head Start Center agreed to be a test site for the program.

“We have been partners with the Children’s Center for quite some time,” Spady said. “Dorothy Bryant (the Site Supervisor in Courtland) said she would like to add some fresh vegetables to the menu in Courtland.”

Spady was able to secure two local farmers to participate in the program. Ken Francis of Cross Keys Farms in Newsoms and Walter Jarvis of Wakefield are the first two to participate. So far, the Center has received and cooked cabbage, sweet potatoes, collards, and butternut squash. Recipes have included butternut squash and sausage casserole and “unrolled” cabbage roll-ups.

The Children’s Center promotes child wellness by providing nutrition services that complement and supplement those of the home and community. The Center serves three meals per day – breakfast, lunch, and afternoon snack – that follow USDA requirements. In addition, the Center does not add salt, sugar, and fat to foods during preparation and consumption. Food selection focuses on whole foods.

“Having fresh produce available helps us to promote wellness and nutrition. At the same time, the children have liked the vegetables so far,” Bryant said. “The fresh produce makes a big difference.”

Spady said the Planning Council hopes to assess the program this winter.

“We are testing it out to see how it looks. Hopefully in the spring we will be able to look at the time it took for the cooks to prepare the food, the process of the farmers dropping off the produce, the cost, and how the children like the fresh food,” she said. “Every program will be different. We will be looking at a program by program basis to see what works best.

“Hopefully this will be able to continue in the future and maybe branch out to other locations. We would like to get more farmers involved to get more of a variety,” Spady added.

Spady said other childcare programs that are interested can contact her at Farm2Childcare@theplanningcouncil.org.

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