New Farm-to-Childcare Partnership Combines Market Share with Community-Based Nutrition Education
Just the other week, a participant in “Chop it Up,” FRESHFARM’s first Community Food Education program, opened a bag of fresh produce that had been delivered to her house. She cooked a delicious soup with some of the vegetables, snapped a photo, and sent it to her Community Food Educators, Ebony Lancaster and Alicia Gaskins, to share the delicious dish she cooked up. Ebony and Alicia were thrilled to see participants sharing recipe ideas with them and each other outside of their weekly “Chop It Up” cooking classes. When the “Chop it Up” group got back together online the next week, they reconnected, laughed, and chatted as everyone attempted to chop their spaghetti squash in half and scoop out the slimy seeds. Even during these distant times, cooking together and swapping recipes has the power to bring us together around the “table.”
Each week “Chop It Up” participants receive a bag of fresh, local produce delivered to their homes. Produce has included kale, squash, tomatoes, onions, radishes, and more! A couple days after the deliveries are made, all participants are invited to join their virtual “Chop It Up” session. Ebony describes the sessions as a time for participants to “Chill, relax, laugh” and come together around delicious food. As participants share their favorite recipes and cooking techniques, FoodPrints Program Manager Martine Hippolyte says it feels like “It’s becoming a family.”
A couple of sessions ago, everyone tried paw paws at the same time, in a segment of the “Chop It Up” sessions called the “Tasting Challenge.” With nervous laughter and smiles echoing through their screens, everyone bit into this unique, local fruit and shared their reactions with each other just as if they were sitting around a table together.
FRESHFARM’s Community Food Education program is a new grassroots farm-to-childcare partnership between the Pop Up Food Hub and FoodPrints. Community Food Educators support FRESHFARM’s Market Share, a program that aims to break down barriers to healthy food access by offering deep discounted shares of fresh, local produce that can be paid for via SNAP, WIC, or cash/credit. During the pandemic, shares are delivered to families’ homes. Community Food Educators are FRESHFARM staff members who receive training to build healthy food habits and culture within their childcare communities. Although this program was designed to be offered in-person at childcare centers, as with almost everything during the pandemic, our team has transformed it for a virtual experience.
Two of our FoodPrints teachers, Martine Hippolyte and Serenity Rain, designed a 5-week immersive food education training program focused on cooking skills, food access and equity, and leadership. By the end of the training, Ebony and Alicia were excited to become Community Food Educators, and Martine and Rain were thrilled to see how enthusiastic Ebony and Alicia were about their new roles.
With continued on-the-job support from Martine and Rain, Ebony and Alicia dove into building community around healthy food with other families at their childcare center through outreach and online classes and by ensuring produce delivery. Even though it is a virtual table, Rain tells participants, “you come as you are; cook or not cook; come for conversation.” Ebony and Alicia couldn’t agree more. They are thrilled to have fellow Early Childcare Center parents, friends, and anyone from top chef to beginner home cook, join in the conversation and the fun to learn, share, and celebrate food together even when they are apart.