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Organization provides children with healthy foods

The Planning Council, a Norfolk-based community organization, has arranged a unique partnership between local farmers and childcare providers.

In 2015, the firm introduced Farm2Childcare, a program designed to provide children with fresh produce from farmers in the Western Tidewater area.

This program “helps kids live a healthy lifestyle,” said Diane Nelms, communications and program specialist for the Obici Healthcare Foundation.

In previous years, the council had worked with the Obici Health Foundation on programs concerning diabetes prevention in adults. This led to research into other nutritional initiatives, specifically for children.

In the first phase of its research, the organization tested the body mass indexes of more than 700 Western Tidewater children between the ages two to five. Data showed that 32 percent were either overweight or obese, according to Ipek Taffe, chief executive officer of The Planning Council.

This discovery raised red flags and prompted the council to get consider how to address the issue. The Planning Council asked the Obici Health Foundation to help fund the Farm2Childcare program.

Last year, the foundation awarded $56,000 toward the program, and it plans to award upwards of $42,000 this year, according to Nelms.

“We wanted to know how we can expose our youngest citizens to fresh foods,” Nelms said.

To pair with good nutrition, the council implements physical activity policies to engage students. To date, more than 40 childcare centers and providers, serving more than 1,700 children, are affiliated with Farm2Childcare, according to Taffe.

St. Andrews Preschool and St. Andrews Presbyterian Church, which are both affiliated with Farm2Childcare, have embraced the initiative.

Jake Browder, a local farmer, provided sweet potatoes for one of the preschool’s fundraisers. At the conclusion of the event, more than 1,320 pounds had been sold. The church also hosted a fundraiser selling more than $1,000 worth of locally grown strawberries.

Both the sweet potatoes and strawberries were sold to the school and families of the school and church. A portion of the proceeds was donated to the preschool and church, with farmers collecting the majority.

So far, the program seems to benefit the community as a whole.

“The children and providers are enjoying this,” Taffe said. “The farmers are also supporting the community and receiving a new community to provide for.”

The program also partnered with Healthy Suffolk to help produce gardens at preschools in the area.

Following the early success of the program, both the Obici Health Foundation and The Planning Council want to continuing expanding across the western Tidewater area.

“We hope that all daycare and childcare providers can have access to healthy food,” Nelms said. “We want to make it a practice.”

“We need volunteers to help with transportation between the farmers and the kids,” Taffe said.

For more information about Farm2Childcare or how to get involved, contact the Planning Council at 622-9268 or farm2childcare@planningcouncil.org.