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AHS Faculty Member Awarded $1M USDA Grant

With a grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA), NC State University professor Dara Bloom will work with CEFS Farm to Early Care and Education (ECE) team members Caroline Hundley and Shironda Brown to extend previous statewide collaboratives to focus specifically on piloting models to increase local food procurement by early care and education providers.

Dara Bloom
Dr. Dara Bloom

Bloom, an associate professor in the Agricultural and Human Sciences department and assistant director of Community Based Food Systems for the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (CEFS), recently received a $1 million grant from the Regional Food System Partnerships (RFSP) program. The grant is being matched by five local Partnerships for Children with over $230,000 additional funds going towards the project.

Bloom and the team at CEFS’s goal is to develop, evaluate, and disseminate Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) local food procurement models that increase market viability for producers. “This grant feels like the natural progression of seven years of work to try to make the child care market profitable for farmers. We’re very excited to pilot new models that coordinate purchasing among several centers and families to try to increase the volume of produce ordered and address delivery challenges,” states Bloom. “These models grew out of ideas that county-based Partnerships for Children started to work on during previous collaborations with CEFS’ Farm to ECE initiative.”

Through the NC Farm to ECE Initiative, CEFS and its partner organizations work directly with early childhood facilities and their communities to purchase local food for meals and snacks and to provide children with experiential learning around local food. The Farm to ECE Collaborative is a professional development hub that organizes and networks 15 community teams throughout the state to connect food and early childhood systems. 

NC State was the only organization in the state to receive a portion of the $14 million in RFSP funding toward research that supports partnerships that connect public and private resources to plan and develop local or regional food systems. Bloom comments “We are grateful for our relationship with these Partnerships for Children, who provided match funding, and are dedicating their time to working on the logistics of implementing these local food purchasing models, while also partnering with Cooperative Extension to provide programming support to child care centers.”

To learn more about the Farm to ECE initiative, please visit this link.

Abstract of the Grant:

Recipient: North Carolina State University, Raleigh, NC

Project Type: Implementation & Expansion

Award Amount: $993,825

Match Amount: $234,891

Total Project Amount: $1,228,716

Title: Strengthening Food & Agriculture Value Chains in NC Through Farm to Child Care Collaborations

Our goal is to develop, evaluate, and disseminate Farm to Early Care and Education (Farm to ECE) local food procurement models that increase market viability for producers. Farm to ECE is often framed as a win-win for farmers and children under five, increasing healthy food access. Since 2016, the Center for Environmental Farming Systems has partnered with county-based Partnerships for Children to convene a Farm to ECE Community of Practice that provides technical assistance to childcare centers to purchase local food and conduct experiential learning. However, our program evaluation and research indicate that there are challenges to making Farm to ECE a profitable market for producers and food businesses. The principal issues are that childcare facilities purchase low volumes of local food (due to small serving sizes and enrollment), and purchasing and delivery are decentralized. We propose extending our existing partnerships to explore models of local food procurement that aggregate demand to address these challenges. We will work in six geographically, racially, and ethnically diverse rural counties across North Carolina with high child food insecurity rates to pilot four innovative procurement strategies: (1) collaborative purchasing among childcare centers; (2) working with caterers that serve multiple centers; (3) collaborating with K-12 school districts; and (4) selling to the families of enrolled children. Successful strategies will promote regional collaboration, coordinate menu development, and address delivery logistics. We use an inclusive, participatory approach to convene cross-sector teams in a community of practice to identify replicable Farm to ECE procurement models.