Families with young children are very busy people, indeed. It can be a real challenge finding the time to prepare healthy meals at home. However, with the rise in childhood obesity, it is increasingly important that young children receive proper nutrition and learn to love healthy food at an early age. Studies show that children have already formed their food preferences by age 5, so it is crucial to reach children from the very beginning with healthy messages around food.
For families enrolled in any of the 9 child care centers participating in Families, Farmers and Educators United, accessing healthy food has gotten a lot easier. Rather than making a separate trip to the grocery store with small children in tow, the 150 families who subscribed to Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) at their child care center this year simply pick up a weekly bag of fresh, local produce while they are picking up their child(ren).
This increase in fruit and vegetable purchasing not only encourages subscribers to feed their families healthier meals, it also increases the market for local farmers. This mutually beneficial relationship contributes to a healthier community and stronger local food system.
Time, however, is not always the only challenge for families wishing to increase their consumption of local foods. Cost is also seen as an obstacle for many families who are on a tight budget. CSA subscribers generally pay $15/week or $60/month. A household of 4 with an annual income between $10,000 and $30,000 generally spends between $50 and $55 on fruits and vegetables per month, according to the USDA (http://panplanrevision.mainepan-hw.wikispaces.net/file/view/USDA+Food+Stamp+Purchase+documentpdf.pdf). Although a few dollars a month can mean a lot for a family, it is a relatively small price to pay for increasing the freshness and nutrition of meals at home and preventing chronic disease from affecting loved ones. Subscribers also support the local economy.
One local farmer, Barbara Clark of Maggie's Farm, has also made it easier for families on a budget to participate by becoming a SNAP retailer. SNAP is the program that provides food assistance for families, and was formerly referred to as food stamps. Clark's effort allows families enrolled in SNAP to use those benefits to pay for their weekly CSA share. This uncommon and progressive step made by Maggie's Farm may well serve as a model for other farmers to involve a broader segment of the population in local food and health.
With dedicated farmers, passionate early educators and enthusiastic families, the Families, Farmers and Educators United program is leading the way to promoting health in the early years and contributing to the community-wide effort toward a stronger local food system.