Community Colleges Incorporate Farm to School Learning

When COVID-19 hit, many universities and community colleges pivoted to online learning. While some courses are a natural fit for e-learning, there are other majors that benefit from in-person training, like early childhood education.

“When I first heard that early childhood programs at the community colleges were online, that made me really sad, initially. How do you teach experiential education online? It just doesn’t quite equate,” says Emily Jackson.

Emily Jackson is the program director of Growing Minds, an ASAP program that provides support and resources for farm to school experiences like local food taste tests and school gardening to students throughout the region. Another important part of this work is an upstream approach of developing resources for future educators who will bring farm to school learning into their classrooms after graduation. 

Initially, the program focused on four-year teacher education programs, but over the past several years, ASAP has been developing resources specifically for community colleges. Since many community college students rely on distanced learning, some of these resources were developed with e-learning in mind. 

“In the years it took us to prepare to work with community colleges, we had it in our minds that we need to have videos, we need to have all these things for online classes. And it just happens that now that’s worked to our advantage with the COVID situation as well,” she says.

These resources include videos that demonstrate the four main components of farm to school learning: edible gardens, food prep and cooking, local food taste tests, and farmer visits or field trips. The videos show these activities in action as farmers like Anna Littman from Ivy Creek Family Farm interact with kids in different settings. Now that it’s not possible for early education students to work with children directly, these videos are a way for them to see how kids respond to the programming.

Earlier this year, just before COVID, Growing Minds released a compilation of farm to preschool resources (including the Growing Minds Farm to Preschool Toolkit) for community colleges. It explains farm to school philosophies and offers activities that align with North Carolina’s Early Learning Standards. For example, participating in a school garden helps young children utilize gross motor skills. Older students can apply math skills by making charts to compare the heights, weights, and days it takes to grow different vegetables.

The Growing Minds at Community College program also helps future educators navigate funding for farm to school activities. For example, food prep and cooking activities can count as a reimbursable snack through federal and state funding. 

Previously, much of this information was presented in person at state-wide conferences, but the resources were put online earlier this year, and are now accessible to all North Carolina community colleges. Currently, 22 of the 58 community colleges in the state are using these resources.

Community college students in these early education programs will spend the next several months learning about farm to school programs that they can implement with their future preschool students. Just imagine the school gardens, cooking activities, and farm field trips that are being developed during this time.

“We’re hoping we’re going to graduate this new generation of folks who think this is the way you do early childhood education,” she says.

Community colleges can contact Emily Jackson through the Growing Minds website to talk about incorporating these resources into their programs. 
The website also has an online library of farm to school lesson plans that are available to the public. It’s full of activities, books, and videos for children and their families during COVID and beyond. Find those resources and more at

Aired: June 15, 2020

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