Community Action brings local vegetables to low-income families through Farm to Preschool program
View full sizeSarah Cooper usually buys her groceries from a low-price supermarket, where she says produce is cheapest.
The 26-year-old Beaverton woman has a 2-year-old daughter and a tight budget. But recently, she and her family have been eating organic vegetables grown by local farmers as participants of the new Farm to Preschool program.
“I don’t usually get a chance to get local produce,” she said. “It tastes a lot better. I feel like I’m getting my vitamins better, too.”
Farm to Preschool is run by Community Action, a nonprofit organization that strives to alleviate issues of poverty in Washington County, through its Home Based Early Head Start program. That program prepares Hillsboro and Beaverton children, age 3 and under, for kindergarten and focuses on parent involvement.
The 79 families enrolled in Home Based Early Head Start receive $10 worth of fresh produce from local farmers once a month for six months. The program, which started in May, is funded by a $7,860 federal Child Care Wellness Grant.
Home Based Early Head Start is designed for families with an annual income at or below the federal poverty level of $23,050 for a family of four. The program operates at no cost to participants and is full, although applications are accepted year-round.
Kathy Zane, the program area supervisor for Early Head Start, said she had been trying for years to start a program that brings local food to low-income families.
“We are trying to improve the diets of children, especially with what we know about the epidemic of obesity,” she said. “That’s what this is about — transforming our food culture.”
As part of the program, a registered dietician provides monthly low-budget recipes and activities for teachers to show the parents and children during home visits. The activities are easy, such as making a salad, so that children can be included.
Teacher Monica Oyola said the program has provided parents with a fun approach to getting their children to eat more vegetables.
“When the children were involved in the preparation part,” she said, “they were more willing to eat it.”
Ana Laura Gaona, 40, of Beaverton, said she tried to use her Farm to Preschool shares as a way to introduce her children to cooking.
“They learned to make a salad,” she said. “It is an activity that they liked a lot because they learned how to use tongs, how to squeeze a lime and how to add salt.”
Gaona said she could distinctly tell the difference between the farm-fresh shares she has been receiving and store-bought vegetables. “They have more taste and color,” she said. “Even the smell is different.”
The program is also an avenue to introduce families to new types of produce, Zane said. In July, the families received golden beets, rainbow chard and French sorrel.
Florence Jessup, a farmer with Artisan Organics in Hillsboro, said buying fresh food that’s in season and preparing it at home is far less expensive than buying fast food.
Americans spend a smaller percentage of their income on food than any other country in the world and eat more than people in most countries, she said, “yet we still have nutrient-deficiency diseases, because we’re getting calories but we’re not getting nutrition.”
Teacher Lindsey Walsh said one of the program’s goals is to show families that buying local is easier than most people think.
“I feel like sometimes our families hear the word organic and think ‘oh, that’s too fancy’ or ‘I can’t afford that,’” she said, “but at the farmers markets you can get a pretty good deal.”
– Andrea Castillo