Farm to Early Care

Farm to Early Care & Education

Farm to early care and education (“farm to ECE”) is the application of farm to school activities to preschools, daycare centers, Head Start programs, and other early care settings.

The main goals of farm to ECE:

  • Increase children’s access to local and nutritious food.
  • Provide hands-on learning opportunities.
  • Influence eating habits and food preferences during formative years.
  • Educate children about food systems and local agriculture.
  • Support local farmers and local communities.

Who can participate?

  • Preschools
  • Child care centers
  • Head Starts
  • Programs run by school districts
  • Family-run child care programs
Image courtesy of National Farm to School Network

Why farm to ECE?

Farm to ECE offers many benefits that support the goals of the early care and education community. Activities like hands-on nutrition education, gardening, and farm field trips are fun and engaging ways to meet the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards for children in their preschool years. In addition, farm to ECE strongly aligns with Head Start priority areas, which emphasize experiential learning opportunities, parent and community engagement, and life-long health and wellness for children, families and caregivers.

Sourcing local food for snacks and meals also expands healthy food access for children and families, provides additional market opportunities for farmers, and supports thriving communities.

Download our “Farm to ECE in IL” 2-Pager

Print and share this PDF at your next event!

Sourcing Local for Little Ones

Sourcing local food for your ECE program can be easy and fun while allowing you to grow community connections with local producers. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service encourages local foods in Child and Adult Care Food Programs

Check out the great resources below for more information on how to get started with sourcing local food for your ECE program.

Photo courtesy of the National Farm to School Network

Finding & Buying Local Foods

Incorporating Local Food into Meals & Snacks

Garden Food is Local!

Did you know garden food is the most local food you can eat? 

Growing an edible garden will provide hands-on learning experiences for your young eaters. Involving your kids from planting to harvest can be a very rewarding experience giving little ones the opportunity to connect with their food! When you involve young children from seed to plate they are more likely to try and enjoy new foods. 

“Remember the mantra, “If they make it or grow it, they will eat it.”  (Exerpt from the USDA Farm to School Planning Toolkit)

If you are starting an edible garden, or planning to utilize a garden for tastings and ingredients be sure to check out our Gardening On-site Toolkit for best practices in garden food safety!

Farm to ECE: Nutrition Education

Through fun hands-on learning activities young children can learn life-long healthy eating habits and be introduced to a variety of fresh and local foods. By integrating nutrition education into curriculum, children will learn important developmental skills and help your program meet the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards.

Check out these great resources for more information on how to incorporate nutrition education into your ECE program:

Image courtesy of National Farm to School Network




Start Early in the Garden

Gardening in early care settings provides hands-on experiential learning for children that help your program meet the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards. It increases opportunities for development of physical and social skills while also teaching healthy eating habits.

Check out these great resources for more information on how to start a garden in your ECE program:

Image courtesy of National Farm to School Network

Garden Guides

Garden-Based Activities & Curriculum

Illinois Harvest of the Month

Register for Harvest of the Month to access recipes, classroom activities, and technical assistance for your early care center!