By Katherine Hobson
Little Ones Learning Center, located in the Forest Park neighborhood of metro Atlanta, is taking health and wellness beyond the daily meals they serve. The childcare center is a leader in farm to early care and education- a comprehensive program to get kids eating and preferring healthy, local foods.
Little Ones owner Wande Okunoren- Meadows and her team, incorporated the farm to early care program because they believe in it. “Good eating starts now. We have to raise farmers now. We have to have children know where their food comes from now,” says Wande. A number of new health initiatives haven taken root at the center including an edible garden that functions as an outdoor classroom, composting, and harvesting of fresh produce. Seventy-five percent of the produce served to children attending Little Ones is local or organic.
To encourage families to purchase healthy, local foods, staff at Little Ones created an onsite farmer’s stand called the Lions Market. Little Ones works in partnership with The Common Market, a Georgia distributor of sustainable, local foods. The Lions Market includes fresh items such as carrots, red and sweet potatoes, strawberries, Boston lettuce, brown eggs, and additional herbs and produce grown in the school garden.
On the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of every month, each child is given Lions Market cash to spend on any produce they would like at the market. Children learn how to exchange money for goods while fostering a shopping ritual of picking out and purchasing fresh fruits and vegetables. Parents are also able to use cash to purchase items.
One of the motivations for the farm to early care and education initiatives at the center is to increase access to healthy foods. Wande noted that many of the grocery stores in Forest Park lack variety and produce can be over-priced or in poor condition. Much of the available and inexpensive foods available are less nutritious, pre-packaged, and processed foods. To further increase access for the families, the Lion’s Market was recently approved to accept EBT payment.
“Clayton County has the lowest child well-being index in all of metro Atlanta,” Wande shares. “We are committed to doing anything we can to change that. If we can change one parent’s purchasing habits, that’s a win for me. That is one less child that may not experience health issues in the future turning this into a generational shift.”
What started as an initiative to increase healthy food served to the children at the center, has blossomed into a comprehensive farm to early care education program and is still expanding. The team at Little Ones has established a learning center that incorporates programs, curriculum, and policies that encourage healthy behaviors for children and their families. The Center envisions opening another market outside of Little Ones to extend access to nutritious food into the wider Forest Park community.
Georgia Organics partners with Little Ones, The Common Market, Quality Care and Children, and Voices for Georgia’s Children to child care centers in farm to early care and education programming through the Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education Collaborative funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation.To learn more about the farm to early care and education, visit our Farm to Early Care and Education page.