MSU nutrition program addresses childhood nutrition
Michigan State University Extension’s new Growing Healthy Eaters program — funded by an Allen Foundation grant — aims to help these providers serve healthy foods while teaching kids about community agriculture and gardening.
When it comes to kids’ eating habits, researchers say the early childhood period is especially formative, and childcare providers can be among the biggest influences.
Michigan State University Extension’s new Growing Healthy Eaters program — funded by an Allen Foundation grant — aims to help these providers serve healthy foods while teaching kids about community agriculture and gardening. At the heart of this program is the concept of “farm to early childhood education,” or farm to ECE.
“Farm to ECE has three main parts: serving more local foods in meals and snacks, gardening with the children, and teaching children about where food comes from,” said Dawn Earnesty, an MSU Extension community nutrition evaluation specialist and program lead.
From now through December, MSU Extension is seeking to recruit 100 childcare providers from the following 19 Michigan counties: Lake, Clare, Wayne, Saginaw, Roscommon, Ogemaw, Alcona, Oscoda, Arenac, Montmorency, Genesee, Mackinaw, Muskegon, Schoolcraft, Gratiot, Ontonagon, Washtenaw, Oceana and Alger. Areas were chosen based off of data surrounding childhood poverty, food access and food insecurity.
Participants will receive:
- Licensure continuing education hours through the MI Registry system
- Free gardening and/or food procurement supplies, recipes, tip sheets and samples
- A subscription to community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes of local produce
- Free, evidence-based nutrition education and support in the areas of food resource management and procuring local, farm-fresh food for their childcare businesses.
Michelle Wambold, an Alcona County childcare provider who signed up for the program, is excited to enhance the menus she serves to her children while supporting local food producers.
“I am always looking for ways to improve my family daycare home,” Wambold said. "I also strive to find new or different foods or different ways to prepare foods to make it and keep it interesting for my daycare kids.”
Once the group of 100 providers is assembled, they will be matched with MSU Extension instructors in their respective counties for a series of free, virtual nutrition educational sessions. Providers will also participate in discussions with MSU Extension staff and farmers to ensure the produce they receive through their CSA subscriptions is culturally appropriate.
“Part of this project is acknowledging and respecting the differences in each county, each provider and each farmer,” said Earnesty. “Some providers are in food deserts or places where produce isn’t accessible. Others aren’t aware of the local foods available to them, or they haven’t created those relationships with farmers yet. That’s where this program can fill in the gaps.”
MSU Extension hopes to grow the program itself, eventually serving as a replicable model for other Michigan counties and beyond.
“The hope is to build strong relationships between ECE homes and local agriculture producers,” said Earnesty. “When we strengthen the connection between ECE and local food systems, we can improve access to healthy foods for all children.”
Application information can be found, here.