Farm to school programs have been shown to have positive impacts on child outcomes. As such, interest and initiatives in farm to ECE programs have become common. Information on ECE providers’ perceptions on farm to ECE programming and current farm to ECE activities is limited.
To describe perceived benefits, barriers, and participation of farm to ECE programming (gardening, nutrition education, and local food procurement) by ECE providers in Colorado.
Study Design, Setting, Participants
A descriptive cross-sectional design targeting ECE providers statewide was employed in 2 phases using an electronic survey that was distributed through snowball sampling: Phase 1 (46 questions) and Phase 2 (48 questions). Questions were adapted from the National Farm to School Network 2018 Farm to ECE Survey, or developed to capture specific Colorado initiatives.
Descriptive statistics were performed using IBM SPSS Statistics (version 25).
A total of 250 complete surveys were used for analysis. Child-centered benefits were most important to respondents, and included helping children develop healthy eating habits (99%), children connecting with nature via gardening (98%), and opportunities for children to try more fruits/vegetables (98%). The greatest challenges of farm to ECE programming were limited resources, including the cost of procuring local foods (80%), and expenses and staff time associated with gardening (68%). More than half of respondents reported that the ECE facility had a garden (59%) and provided some form of nutrition education (57%). Only one-third of respondents (37%) indicated that their program procured food from local sources.
Findings highlight that a majority of farm to ECE activities revolve around gardening and nutrition education, with less participation in local food procurement. Future efforts to understand successes and address barriers associated with local food procurement efforts is warranted to enhance participation in all farm to ECE programming components.