When some child care centers remained open for essential workers following the closure of schools statewide in March, this came as good news for the Farm to Early Care Education (Farm to ECE) program. This meant that the food access initiative, operated by Boulder County Farmers Markets (BCFM) and Boulder County Public Health, could continue providing fresh produce to kids who go to the centers. 

“The goal is to make sure that everyone has access to fresh produce,” says Heather Hauswirth, Farm to ECE program specialist. “That’s the most important thing we can provide right now, especially given the circumstances.”  

The program is now in its fifth year, but like most things, it looks a little different due to the pandemic. In the past, Farm to ECE has focused on supplying child care centers with “veggie bucks,” currency staff members could use to purchase fresh food from farmers’ markets across the Front Range for school snacks and meals. But because COVID-19 delayed the opening of BCFM’s markets by more than a month, program operators have opted to provide food exclusively through a community-supported agriculture (CSA) model this year. 

As a result, more than 70 child care centers in Boulder, Longmont, Erie, Louisville, and Lafayette will receive weekly CSA boxes of produce grown by Ollin Farms, Milk and Honey Farm, Browns’ Farm, and Cure Organic Farm through the fall. The produce is integrated into the centers’ food programs, helping kiddos boost their intake of fresh fruits and veggies. Boxes also feature a monthly newsletter for parents with recipes and nutrition information and complementary kids’ activities, such as gardening resources and children’s books on farming.

Brian Coppom, executive director of BCFM, says the objectives of the program—getting kids to try (and maybe even like) vegetables—are driven by a couple different things. First, the program targets kids ages six months to five years, the period when they are starting to eat solid foods, to encourage lifelong healthy eating habits. 

But perhaps most importantly, Coppom remains grounded in his belief that field-ripened, locally-grown vegetables have superior flavor and texture to what one might get at the grocery store—making them more appealing to youngsters. In reference to non-local vegetables, Coppom reiterates, “That produce is grown to travel well. It’s not grown for its flavor and it’s certainly not grown for its nutrition. [The vegetables from this program] are sweeter, more flavorful, crisper, softer, and juicier.”  

This year, BCFM received more than $50,000 for Farm to ECE, which is supported by the City of Boulder’s Health Equity Fund (a result of the municipality’s Sweetened Beverage Tax). Roughly 90 percent of those funds are used to pay farmers for their produce, while the other 10 percent goes toward direct costs associated with running the program. “While there is a contribution to the farmers’ income [through this program], it’s relatively small,” says Coppom. “It’s not so much about the amount of funding as it is the relationships it’s helping kids build with the farmers.” 

Coppom is excited because, while farmers’ markets are a little more complicated this season due to coronavirus, he sees Farm to ECE as a pipeline for diversifying customer representation at BCFM-operated events. “We’ve started seeing a broader spectrum of our community at markets [based on previous years], which is what we want—because healthy food is for everybody.”