For nearly a decade, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy has been engaged in Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) initiatives, helping connect young children with locally grown foods while fostering an awareness of the importance of healthy food for children, families, farmers and communities. While Farm to ECE activities can take place across the spectrum of early care settings, IATP’s work has been focused on partnerships with Head Start programs across Minnesota. Head Start settings vary greatly in their structure, necessitating each partner to adapt IATP’s “Farm to Head Start” model to suit their unique needs and goals. We are pleased to share the work of three Head Start partners—documented in case studies—that highlight different approaches to implementing and sustaining Farm to Head Start initiatives. An accompanying overview document explains more broadly the background and theory behind IATP’s Farm to Head Start work.

Farm to Head Start is a type of Farm to Early Care initiative that includes a broad range of activities designed to introduce young children to locally grown foods and build their knowledge about where food comes from. Farm to Head Start activities promote health and wellness, offer experiential education opportunities that align with Head Start performance standards, and strengthen family and community engagement. At the same time, these initiatives support farmers by providing access to a new, stable and predictable market and boosts local economic activity.

After launching a pilot Farm to Early Care project with a for-profit child care center, IATP introduced its first Farm to Head Start project in 2013 with Community Action of Ramsey and Washington Counties Head Start. Since then, IATP has partnered with 10 of Minnesota’s 34 Head Start programs, helping them feature local foods on their menus, coordinate food and farming-related classroom activities and plan family engagement activities that create continuity between school and home.

In collaboration with interdisciplinary “leadership teams” from each Head Start program and local farmer partners, our Farm to Head Start model has been adapted to fit the unique context of each individual community. From urban areas like St. Paul, to tribal communities in northern Minnesota, to programs serving migrant farm worker families across the state, these Farm to Head Start initiatives have been successfully implemented across a range of obstacles. For example, some had fully-equipped scratch kitchens and purchased local items from roadside farm stands, while others received vended meals through the local school district and purchased Minnesota-grown foods through a mainline distributor. While the methods of implementation differed from partner to partner, each Farm to Head Start initiative was designed to benefit children, farmers and communities.

These three case studies illustrate how our partners at Tri-Valley Opportunity CouncilTri-County Community Action Partnership and Community Action of Ramsey and Washington Counties were able to implement Farm to Head Start activities in ways that met their individual needs and goals. They describe each program’s unique context and identify steps taken to address challenges that arose. By documenting and sharing their work, we hope to provide anyone in a Head Start (or other early care and education) setting with concrete examples, resources and ideas to begin their own Farm to Head Start initiative.