By Katherine Hobson
From dressing up in a carrot costume, to harvesting fresh lettuce with toddlers and preschoolers, Carol Clarke of Concerted Services Inc. loves sharing her excitement for Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) with South Georgia early care providers. Farm to ECE aims to foster a lifelong love of healthy, local foods among young children through gardening and experiential learning with food. Since starting the program, Carol has witnessed increasing openness amongst children to trying new foods, especially when that food is something they helped grow themselves.
A Head Start Training and Literacy Specialist, Carol is at the forefront of this work. Though Carol has worked in health for 10 years, she only recently began attending SNAP-Ed trainings, Georgia Organics Conferences, and collaborating with other nutrition programs such as HealthMPowers. Carol decided to pair Farm to ECE with Head Start because of the programs’ shared emphasis on nutrition and physical activity. Carol partnered with Ambi Bess from the Southeast Health District Health Promotion office to start the program. Together, they began the process of training staff and starting gardens. Clarke and Bess have spread Farm to ECE to 17 centers reaching 930 children in 12 counties thus far.
Parent and teacher involvement is pivotal to Farm to ECE’s success. “In order to get the program started, having the teachers involved and on-board was the biggest factor,” said Carol. “Instead of making the program mandatory, we wanted the teachers to join in because they saw value in what we were doing.”
Carol has experienced the joy that Farm to ECE activities bring to the early care atmosphere. She leads activities ranging from planting and harvesting various vegetables to taste tastes that allow children to use all their senses while trying new foods. One of her fondest memories is helping her students prepare a salad dressing. The children picked fresh herbs from the garden, juiced lemons, then tasted the delicious salad they’d created from their very own garden.
One of the biggest outcomes of the Farm to ECE program is the confidence that the children and teachers have gained gardening and producing their own food. Carol was excited to share that, “one classroom has grown so confident that they have taken over a second garden to start planting more seeds. They want to do more!”
For more information on Farm to ECE, visit our Farm to Early Care and Education page.