Produce program continues to grow

Published 9:38 pm Thursday, January 28, 2016

By all accounts, Farm2Childcare — the Planning Council’s pilot program to get more fresh produce served by local childcare providers — was a hit.

“Any time you receive food, it’s a blessing,” said Mary Bellamy, of Children of Faith Childcare in Franklin. She was among the group of childcare providers and farmers who turned up at Wednesday’s Planning Council meeting to evaluate Farm2Childcare’s launch last fall and to offer input for the 2016 season.

Farmers worked to provide several childcare centers in Western Tidewater with locally-grown fall crops: broccoli, cabbage, collards, sweet potatoes and butternut squash, said Marissa Spady, nutrition specialist at the Planning Council. Funded with a planning grant from the Obici Healthcare Foundation, the program supplied local children centers with 489 pounds of fresh produce last year.

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To grow the program this year, the Planning Council offered childcare providers and residents opportunities to sign up for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) baskets for $10 a week. The program will last four weeks and is designed to see whether childcare providers would be willing to pay for produce, Spady said.

The Planning Council also recruited volunteers to serve on a task force to evaluate ways to promote Farm2Childcare and look for other ways to promote the use of fresh, local foods within the community.

“Fresh produce is not always available,” Bellamy said. “I would be willing to pay a reasonable amount.”

The Children’s Center in Courtland received vegetables for 85 children, said owner Dorothy Bryant. Besides eating the produce, Bryant had students get hands-on experience by scrubbing potatoes and other vegetables.

Handling the vegetables also helped develop the children’s fine motor skills, Bryant added.

Suffolk’s St. Andrew Preschool also bought sweet potatoes from Browder to resell for its fall fundraiser, said co-director Carol Carnegie. The school sold 30 40-pound boxes of sweet potatoes for $30 a box, she said.

Farmers Jake Browder and Walter Jarvis, two producers of the fall crops, said the program was successful for them.

“I jumped at it,” Browder, a Smithfield farmer, said of the opportunity. “Typically, bulk buyers take priority over other customers because they buy so much.”

It would be helpful for childcare providers to let them know their most frequently served vegetables and fruits so they would be able to plant accordingly, Jarvis added.