Farm to center grant brings fresh, local fruits & veggies to Cary children

At KinderCare Education, we know that growth starts from the inside out. Having a healthy body means having a healthy mind and we want to nourish and fuel the children in our care to learn and grow. That’s why, over the next few weeks, we’re sharing stories about the nutrition improvements we’ve made and celebrating the extraordinary centers and sites that are taking our commitment to do what’s right for the children in our care to the next level.

KinderCare Education’s commitment to helping children develop healthy habits resonated with CaryTowne KinderCare Center Director Danielle Hayes-Countee. Last year she learned about the John Rex Endowment, a nonprofit in her area of Cary, North Carolina, dedicated to working with community groups to create opportunities for children and families to live healthy lives. Hayes-Countee applied for and earned a grant allowing her center to participate in Wake County’s Farm to ChildCare program. Through the Farm to ChildCare program, the CaryTowne center receives a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables every week.

CaryTowne Center Director Danielle Hayes-Countee with Mr. Jones, the center's farmer.

CaryTowne Center Director Danielle Hayes-Countee with Mr. Jones, the center’s farmer when the CaryTowne center began participating in the Farm to ChildCare program.

“It’s a partnership with local farmers,” Hayes-Countee explained. “The community learns to buy local.”

Hayes-Countee carefully explored her options for food providers. She wanted to go “straight to the farm” and find someone with extensive farming experience. She was happy to meet Mr. Jones, a “grandfather type” running a family farm in the area. Not only does Mr. Jones drop off fresh foods once a week, like strawberries and zucchini, but he also helps the center prepare its garden. Mr. Jones is more than just a food provider: he, meets families at special events like the farmer’s market stand he set up in the center’s parking lot last summer and the center’s annual Feast of Thanks in November.

The partnership allows Hayes-Countee and her teachers to incorporate fresh, local fruits and vegetables into their menu, something that Hayes-Countee said is “pretty awesome to mention to families on tours.”

Vegetables from the CaryTowne center's garden.

Vegetables from the CaryTowne center’s garden.

Teachers also incorporate the fresh food into their lessons, introducing children to new food through songs and activities, which includes working in the center’s garden. One popular activity involves using the center’s dehydrator to make chips from kale, apples, and sweet potatoes – a great way to encourage children to try new flavors and textures.

“We encourage children to try the food,” said Hayes-Countee. “If they know it’s something they cooked or made, they’re more apt to try it.”

Everything is meticulously recorded on each child’s My Day sheet and documented on displays around the center. Hayes-Countee said parents take those lessons and use them at home. When the center served turkey wraps with a veggie cream cheese spread, parents clamored for the recipe.

Veggies fresh from the center's garden, ready to go home with families.

Veggies fresh from the center’s garden, ready to go home with families.

Instilling healthy habits in children, families, and staff is exactly what Hayes-Countee hoped this partnership would create.

“Parents didn’t realize they could afford healthier food,” she said. “They thought fresh, healthy food was expensive.”

Now that it’s time for spring planting, one can be sure Hayes-Countee, her students and her teachers will be out in their garden following Mr. Jones’ tips and preparing for another season of fresh, local, healthy produce.

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