The Seventh Georgia Farm to School and Early Care and Education Summit will be hosted June 7-8 at Helms College in Macon, Ga. Registration is open NOW.
Wande Okunoren-Meadows is delivering a keynote speech at the 2019 Farm to School and Early Care Education Summit. Wande is the Early Childhood Program Administrator at Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Ga. She manages the daily operations at the center, which serves 175 children.
Under her tutelage, Little Ones has become a stand out model for Farm to Early Care (Farm to ECE) education in Georgia. Children at the center are served local and organic produce, and tend to an edible community garden, which functions as an outdoor classroom. The staff also started an onsite farmer’s stand where children and their parents can purchase fresh, local, and sustainable fruits and vegetables. Last year, Little Ones was selected to be one of 18 pilot sites to participate in the Georgia Farm to Early Care and Education Learning Collaborative.
Wande has received numerous awards and recognition for her work in Early Care and public service. She was appointed and served on Governor Deal and Georgia’s first Early Education Subcommittee from 2015 – 2016. In 2017, she received the Nikki Randall Servant Leadership Award. Continue reading to learn more about Wande.
Could you give me a “teaser trailer” for what you will cover in your keynote?
I plan to speak about the importance of family engagement: how we have to look outside of our traditional classroom setting, and think about things from a more holistic, and community-based approach. I think a lot of people look at Farm to ECE and say ‘it’s all about taste tests and nutrition, and this, that, and the other,’ but I really do want to try to present it in a more holistic, wider approach. You know, at my center, we don’t give out medications the way we used to, now that we’ve been investing in Farm to Early Care and Learning. Our kids aren’t as sick as they used to be and our family engagement has gone up.
I’ll also be talking about how Farm to ECE is not an additional task for teachers, but it’s absolutely integrated into everything that we do.
Finally, I’ll be talking about making early investments now. If we take the time and do the work now, it will lead to better outcomes in the future. It’ll hopefully decrease the obesity rate, behavioral issues, attention, etc.
How did you get involved with Farm to Early Care?
[At first,] We didn’t really know we were doing it, to be honest. My mother is a registered dietitian by trade, so health has always been at the forefront of everything that she does. So we don’t take shortcuts when it comes to that.
We built the garden in 2013 and that really put us on the pathway to Farm to ECE. Our garden was a huge swimming pool. We tore down the swimming pool, installed a garden, and dedicated it to the life and memory of Jazmin Greene. We’ve been going ever since!
We thought it was just going to be this little project—grow some dandelions, kills some weeds—but it really did prove to be something more—and something that stabilizes the community because our garden has also brought about amazing partnerships with other organizations.
What are you most excited about for this year’s Summit?
Oh, the people! And I hope there are more teachers! It’s wonderful to have top-down practices and top-down approaches: people at the top—directors, owners, maybe franchisees—making those decisions saying, ‘I’m going to become Farm to ECE.’ But I really want teachers and the owners to know that unless it has the buy-in of the staff, your program is going to go nowhere.
I’m excited, and I’m hoping, I’m hoping, I’m HOPING that we have lots and lots of teachers because that’s who’s going to do the work. It’s not owners and directors in those classrooms, it’s those teachers. So I really want them to understand the importance of what it is and that it’s not just another thing to do.
In your opinion, what does Summit have to offer teachers?
It’s something different! How many math trainings have we been to? Science, learn how to do crafts or management…? This is something different, and it’s useful, and it’s totally applicable to the work that educators do. So, if they’re fatigued of going to the same old, same old class, this is the perfect opportunity to spice up their classroom, do something new, and do something engaging! Kids don’t learn by sitting, rote memorization, dictating... They learn by viewing. They learn by planting a seed. They learn by tasting different types of apples.
Presented by Georgia Farm to School Alliance and Georgia Farm to Early Care and Coalition, hosted by the Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning and Georgia Organics.
The farm to early care and education (farm to ECE) and farm to school movement connects early care providers, schools, and local farms in an effort to serve healthy meals and snacks, improve student nutrition, and increase farm and gardening educational opportunities. This year’s Summit welcomes early care providers and staff, teachers, school nutrition staff, students, parents, farmers, distributors, and others interested in learning more about Georgia’s farm to ECE and farm to school community.