New Jersey Department of Agriculture Division of Food and Nutrition Director Rose Tricario along with USDA, state, county and local officials visited Alphabets Preschool Center today to highlight its Farm to Preschool program.
“Farm to School encourages children at even young ages to explore the many kinds of fruits and vegetables that are available,” Director Tricario said. “The sooner children learn and understand how food is grown and develop healthy eating habits, the more likely they are to continue those habits in the future.”
Alphabets Preschool Center is part of the Asbury Park School District and has been owned and operated by Esther Piekarski for the last 35 years. The school serves 60 3 to 5-year olds who must be residents of Asbury Park to attend the September through June program. Alphabets also offers a summer camp for 3 to 7-year olds in Monmouth County.
Piekarski’s husband, Terry Lysaght, created and developed a vegetable and flower garden for the preschool several years ago. He also developed a curriculum so teachers can present simple gardening concepts to the young students, which caught the attention of the NJDA Farm to School team.
“The garden has meant so much to the school over the years and it’s a big part of what we do here, especially during the growing season,” Piekarski said. “It allows the children to learn about the food we grow and when they understand where it comes from, it makes them more likely to try eating different produce.”
The Farm to School Program encourages preschools and schools to highlight local products and fresh food and nutrition education for even the youngest eaters. From taste tests to school gardens, multiple resources are available to help sites and sponsors bring local food to early childcare settings. Educators can also use school garden programs to teach any subject – math, science, language arts, health and nutrition, art or social studies. Farm to School programs promote and create a sense of community.
Hundreds of New Jersey schools are practicing those healthy habits. In a survey sent to school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program in New Jersey, 255 schools said they purchase some local produce from their main distributor, 223 districts said they purchase local produce directly from farms, 212 districts said they connect curriculum that ties cafeteria meals to healthy eating education and 114 districts said they organize field trips to farms.
The NJDA’s Farm to School Program started a new initiative at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year called Jersey Tastes! The program features one fruit or vegetable a month and provides resources for schools to encourage students to try produce that is available during the growing season in New Jersey. Lettuce is the featured produce for March.
Some of the funding for the Alphabets Preschool Center comes from the Child and Adult Care Food Program, which brings healthy foods to the table for children and adults in day care and child care homes, centers, and in afterschool feeding programs across the country. Governor Murphy proclaimed March 11-17 as Child and Adult Care Food Program Week in New Jersey, based on National CACFP Week, a national education and information campaign designed to raise awareness of how the Child and Adult Care Food Program works to combat hunger.
In New Jersey, the CACFP provides Program Sponsors funding for serving nutritious meals and healthy snacks to 96,953 eligible participants daily at 2,078 emergency shelters, day care centers, family day care homes, after-school care programs and adult day care centers, under the sponsorship of 679 New Jersey institutions. The program is federally funded and administered by the New Jersey Department of Agriculture. Nationally, child care providers and centers participating in CACFP provide meals to 4.2 million children and 130,000 elderly or disabled adults each day.