Early childhood is a critical period for the development of children’s brain and bodies.
Organizations like Quality Care for Children (QCC) are creating innovative programs to support Georgia’s youngest children. They were recipients of the No Kid Hungry’s Promising Practices to End Rural Child Hunger Initiative grant, an effort to support nine organizations and allow them to collaborate on how to best feed kids in rural communities.
Rural communities face a particular set of challenges to ensure all kids are fed, such as difficult access to food and high levels of unemployment that QCC sees in Georgia. Shannon Holbrook, consultant for the Farm to Early Care and Education grant at QCC, explained the challenges her community faced.
“One of the things we've learned,” she shared, “is that you might have a mother who's having to try and fit in two jobs. And her nearest store is the convenience store across the street. And if she's working, all she can do is run across there. And there are not any fresh fruits and vegetables.”
QCC quickly recognized the opportunity to support young children by ensuring they have access to healthy meals in childcare program sites across west Georgia. They created a Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) program to help childcare programs connect to local farmers and procure and deliver healthy produce to five early childhood sites. The West Georgia Farmer's Cooperative was one of the contacts.
In addition to the food from local farmers, they also have supported the creation of local gardens and offered associated activities such as taste tests, cooking with garden-raised produce, and children helping tend the garden
Gina Cook, Nutrition and Early Care Education Manager at QCC, witnessed the impact of the program on children, families, and even staff at one of the sites she visited.
“It's amazing!” Cook shared. “Over time you see these child care providers who had no knowledge of menu planning learn about healthy diets and then take it to the next level by growing the foods themselves. It impacts the kids directly as they grow the vegetables they enjoy the vegetables more."
QCC also helped sites understand how to implement grab-and-go meals during childcare shutdowns. They guided childcare programs through changes in USDA rules for serving food during the pandemic.
“They were afraid to bring their children because of a possible exposure to Covid,” explained Holbrook, praising the USDA waivers. “And those childcare program sites could fix meals for two or three days and the parents could actually come pick them up without having to have their kids.”
The impact of healthy meals for kids is also having an impact on adults in the community. One of the childcare sites started sharing healthy recipes with their staff and creating competitions to promote healthier lifestyles. Kids are also taking what they learned at the childcare program and passing it on to their parents.
“They're like little ambassadors,” Holbrook said. “They go back to their homes and they're like...I want to have nutritious food instead. It changes the world. Farm to early care and education is definitely exciting.”
Stay tuned for more stories of how organizations across the US are transforming the landscape of food access in rural communities.
*Photos courtesy of QCC.