- Abby DuBois
West Haven Child Development Center
Dr. Patrice Farquharson has been a part of the West Haven Child Development Center for 43 years, starting as an assistant teacher, working on her doctorate in education, eventually becoming the director of the Center. Over the years, Dr. Patrice has watched their student totals grow at the school, and she is proud to serve and teach 150 children between the ages of six weeks and five years old. The West Haven Child Development Center is a comprehensive program, with a full-time pediatric nurse, a parent engagement coordinator, a social worker, and a partnership with West Haven Mental Health to support the children and families who are a part of the community created by the Center.
For ten years, Dr. Patrice and the Center have worked with the UConn Rudd Center (formerly known as the Yale Rudd Center) to improve school menus and increase knowledge in the classrooms and community about obesity and MyPlate. The center keeps a full-time cook on staff, trained to support the learning through healthy foods, and the children are able to enjoy breakfast, lunch and an afternoon snack at school. The Center is also home to a small garden that runs around the perimeter of the playground, where the kids are able to see what is growing throughout the year.
With so much support, investment, and engagement from the staff, children, and families, the
CT Grown for CT Kids Grant was a good fit to continue the farm-to-school work happening at West Haven Child Development Center. As a part of the grant funding, the Center is partnering with Massaro Farm in Woodbridge to enhance the garden and incorporate hands-on education outside of the school. Caty Poole, the Executive Director of Massaro Farm, has visited the Child Development Center to help clean up the garden beds and create a four-season garden where the children have already begun participating in lessons. Peas and watermelon were harvested this summer, with taste-tests in the classrooms, and ingredient processing (such as drying herbs) used to supplement curriculum.
The partnership with Massaro Farm also includes a food share where Massaro will give food to the families of the West Haven Child Development Center, along with recipes on how to use the foods received. Families can continue their engagement with Massaro through “Cook Along” classes on Zoom with Caty. The ingredients for the cooking classes can be procured from Massaro Farm and the Center’s garden, with some supplementation by the parents for minor missing ingredients. With the Zoom classes, kids are able to participate with their families from their own homes and kitchens. This fall, students will be able to venture out of their school and homes for field trips to Massaro Farm, where they will be able to see farmers and large-scale gardening in action!
With all of this work being done to encourage engagement in the Center’s pre-existing garden, the connection with Massaro Farm, as well as food preparation and processing occurring in t
he classrooms and at home, Dr. Patrice thinks “it’s a nice ripple effect.” The children are reaping a massive benefit with the opportunities to experience a school garden, as well as a larger farm like Massaro. By incorporating cooking and tasting, the children can track how food is planted, grown, harvested, eventually becoming something delicious they can eat. But the benefit doesn’t stop with the children.
Dr. Patrice has 27 teachers on her staff, plus support staff for each classroom. In the past, the Center has done healthy challenges with the teachers, ensuring that the staff is feeling well and supported, while also modeling beneficial behaviors for the students. With the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant’s incorporation of more garden and nutrition education, the teachers are incorporating fresh and local foods into daily or weekly meals, and everyone is able to learn about the process of bringing food from garden to table.
The grant program also sends support to Massaro Farm, creating a strong sense of community around the farm. Families are encouraged to shop from Massaro, and the Center sends out the farm’s weekly newsletter to the parents and guardians to keep them informed on events happening at the farm. In the end, adults, children, and teachers can choose to go to Massaro Farm, buy local produce, and connect with the folks growing healthy and delicious foods.
Like so many other CT Grown for CT Kids Grant recipients, Dr. Patrice recommends starting small and ensuring that you have the proper support to maintain the longevity of the program once the funding has concluded. Dr. Patrice has always searched for funding to increase the Child Development Center’s inclusion of health education, especially surrounding food and nutrition. “I think children need to have these experiences,” says the Dr. Patrice. “Families need to know they can grow their own food and get fresh fruit and vegetables at local farms and use it to substitute what the kids are being fed. It will be instilled in the kids when they go to Kindergarten and other schools.” Early Childhood Education is being recognized more and more as a pivotal time to begin hands-on nutrition and garden education with children, and the West Haven Child Development Center is a wonderful example of how much magic can happen with a supportive staff and a tight community.
There are a multitude of ways to support food and farm-to-school education to grow within schools, Early Childhood Education centers, farm businesses, and other educational institutions. With the CT Grown for CT Kids Grant, a project or program can be funded and a team of school health and nutrition advocates can be built to support the continuous inclusion of health and farm to school themes in your community. Find out more about the grant at CTFarmToSchool.org, on the Connecticut Department of Agriculture website. The second round of Grant applications is currently active and available!