Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More Fresh, Local, and Organic Food on Your Child Care's Menu: Here's How

by Toxic Free NC Staff and Jennifer Li, Children’s Environmental Health Writing Intern

Many families are making local and organic produce a priority these days, and almost everyone needs to increase the fresh foods in their diet. Locally grown produce is the freshest, so it contains more nutrients and it supports local farmers. Why organic? Organic foods are grown without synthetic pesticides and fertilizers, do not contain genetically modified ingredients, synthetic food additives or processing agents, and are environmentally friendly. Research shows that kids who eat a mostly organic diet have much lower levels of potentially harmful pesticides in their bodies.

We interviewed Jan of Country Sunshine Children’s Center, and Shawna of Bright Horizons at Raleigh Corporate Center, both in Raleigh. Their commitment to children’s health is truly inspiring, and the methods they share are feasible and effective. From co-op programs with parents to growing fruits and vegetables in gardens, we hope other childcare centers can use these creative and helpful tips from the pros!

So, how can you get more fresh, local, and organic food onto your child care menu?

Here are 5 tips to get you started:

1. Purchase fresh, local, and organic foods from the Farmers' Market, grocery stores, and food distributors, especially when the vegetables and fruits are in season.

“Anytime we can, we get away from frozen or canned foods and incorporate fresh fruits and vegetables into our menu.” —Jan, Country Sunshine Children’s Center

2. Child care centers can obtain reimbursements for nutritious meals from the Federal Food program.

3. Start a Co-op Program. Country Sunshine uses a “Partnership with Parents” to bring in more fresh foods without driving up costs.

How does it work? 

  • 3 times a week, children at the Country Sunshine Children’s Center are provided with fresh, healthy fruit and vegetable snacks from parents. 
  • Parents are asked to provide fresh produce for one classroom (about 10-20 kids/class) only once per month.
  • Each classroom’s parents are designated a specified amount of a particular fruit or veggie snack for every month. For example, parents may be asked to bring watermelon, apples, lettuce or carrots for the class.
4. Plant a garden at your childcare center.  Children enjoy growing their own fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers to have fun and learn, grow their own snacks, and provide treats for their families to taste.

How does it work?

Seeds are both provided by parents and bought from stores. Children can determine the types of seeds they want to plant.

How can we start doing this?

  • Children can start growing seeds from containers to study them and observe how they grow. Some centers choose to hire a landscaper to build the garden space. This can also be done by parent volunteers if there is a plan for the garden. 
  • Use plants that are easy to grow from seeds: Sunflowers, basil, cherry tomatoes, pumpkins, carrots, and lettuce.
  • More examples of what they have grown: Lemon Cucumbers, Green Beans, Peas, Bell Peppers, Jalapeños, Tomatoes, Watermelons, Basil, Marigolds. 
The garden is a “learning experience, where children learn to take care of living things and have buy-in to the food they eat.” —Shawna, Bright Horizons at the Raleigh Corporate Center.

5. Educate staff, teachers, and parents about your work to provide healthy, organic food to their kids! Both Bright Horizons and Country Sunshine use a regular email newsletter to keep parents updated about menus, volunteer opportunities, and gardening (along with all the other important news from their centers).

You can publish announcements and seek parent support through your child care center newsletter, at parent meetings, etc.

Share information about organic food with parents so they get involved with what you are doing. Eat Local, Eat Pesticide Free! and Organic on a Budget are two great starter fact sheets from Toxic Free NC that can help.

Many thanks to Shawna of Bright Horizons at the Raleigh Corporate Center and Jan of Country Sunshine Children’s Center for allowing us to share the great information they provided for this article!

Jennifer Li is passionate about advocating for improved health in communities. After interning at the Museum of Life and Science last summer to promote healthy living, she was excited to build on her experience to make a difference in improving environmental health with Toxic Free NC.


Did you find this article helpful? Approximately once a month, Toxic Free NC volunteers or staff write a newsletter-ready article, focusing on children's environmental health, that we send to child care centers across North Carolina.

These articles contain helpful tips on ways child care centers, staff, and the children's parents can reduce kids' exposures to toxic chemicals and pesticides...we also think they're great for using in your home, too!  We hope you find the article useful and feel free to share.

If you would like any of the past articles, please email Lynne Walter for copies or to be added to our Child Care News list.  Examples of past articles include:
    •    Having Fun in the Sun: Avoiding Sunburn, Skin Cancer, and Toxic Chemicals, too
    •    Toxic-Free Gardening with Kids: 5 Tips for Gardeners at Home, School, & Child Care on Getting Rid of Bugs Safely
    •    Round Up Your Weeds Without Toxic Chemicals!
    •    Get Pesticides Out of Your Kids' Classrooms: It's Easier than You Think!
    •    Mosquito Management in Child Care


Text and Photo, Copyright 2013 by Toxic Free NC.  NC Child Care centers have permission to use text and photo for educational purposes with their parents and staff, provided full credit is given to Toxic Free NC.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Friendship Gardens Provides Fresh, Local Food to the Charlotte Community

by Elizabeth Chatfield Vernier, Office Management Intern

It all started with a void in fresh produce. The local meals-on-wheels program in Charlotte, Friendship Trays, had always relied in part on farmers donating fresh produce, but it wasn't enough. Friendship Gardens was created to fill the void by connecting local backyard gardeners with Friendship Trays.

Kathy Metzo, Friendship Gardens' Development Director, explained that Friendship Trays used to rely on "donations from grocery stores, frozen vegetables, and fresh vegetables from out of state".

The small garden they started out with did not come close to providing 750 meals a day, so they branched out and began adopting community gardens. "Our goal was 16 gardens, but we had 36 gardens in 2 years, and now we have at least 55 gardens," Kathy said. Some adopted gardens were already in existence, and some were assisted by Friendship Gardens from the ground up.

Friendship Gardens supports volunteers in their backyard gardening program every step of the way. From providing free seeds, food safety and garden training to providing a space for friendship and sharing information, participating gardeners have the tools to succeed.

The large garden network enables support and resource sharing among gardens. Potluck meals allow volunteers and gardeners to connect with each other in an informal setting. According to Kathy Metzo, structured workshops give novices a baseline, and those who garden by trial and error learn the science behind gardening.

Even though Friendship Gardens is based on giving, its success is likely due in part to recognizing that gardeners must enjoy their own harvest. Their Homegrown program improves food access for residents of Habitat for Humanity homes by setting up small residential gardens. They use hearty plants for the new gardeners. This way, participants quickly see the fruits of their labor so they will continue gardening.

The same principle is applied to the backyard gardeners. Friendship Gardens encourages garden volunteers to keep some of the harvest themselves in addition to donating a portion of it to Friendship Trays.

As Kathy Metzo puts it, "Last summer I sautéed some vegetables [from her own garden] in a pan: tomato, okra, and zucchini, with a little olive oil, and sprinkled on some mozzarella. It's simple. You feel like no matter what you grow, how awful a gardener you are, no matter how awful your harvest is, you're still feeding yourself. Even if you just have two okras, one tomato and a zucchini half eaten by worms, you can put half of the zucchini in the compost and eat the other half."

Friendship Gardens was a nominee in Toxic Free NC's 1st annual Save a Bee Beehive Giveaway in 2012. With support from The Burt's Bees Greater Good Foundation, we award a beehive and organic gardening support to a NC community garden working on food access issues in our state.

By encouraging organic gardening and promoting pollinator protection we hope to make it possible for community gardens in NC to grow even more healthy, pesticide-free food for their communities.

Find out more about Toxic Free NC's Save a Bee Beehive Giveaway and how you can help protect pollinators and support community gardens near you.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Congratulations to NC FIELD!

by Lynne Walter, Associate Director

A HUGE congratulations to NC FIELD and the youth members of NC FIELD for receiving the 2013 Florenza Moore Grant Community Environmental Justice Award!  This award, presented by the North Carolina Environmental Justice Network at their annual summit, highlights community groups and individuals who have made a difference in environmental struggles in North Carolina.

Neftali, José, members of the Grant family, and State Senator Angela Bryant

NC FIELD is an amazing grassroots nonprofit in eastern North Carolina that works on the many environmental injustices, especially pesticide exposure, faced by one of the most vulnerable populations in the U.S.: farmworker youth.  The youth involved with NC FIELD are trained through a multi-generational approach to teach them to advocate for themselves, as well as for other farmworkers.  NC FIELD also works with farmworker youth to promote leadership development, provide opportunities for hands-on learning, and reinforce the importance of education.

José, Neftali, and NCEJN Executive Director Gary Grant
Toxic Free NC is fortunate enough to have worked with NC FIELD and their emerging youth leaders, like Neftali and José, on a variety of projects and campaigns.  One of these projects was collaborating on a short documentary about youth in the fields, entitled "Overworked and Under Spray."

¡Felicidades, NC FIELD, for this well-deserved award!

(photos by Peter Eversoll)

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Bees are speaking: It's time to act

By Jean Strandberg & Fawn Pattison

Bombus terrestris, the beloved bumblebee
This October, Toxic Free NC is focusing on our friends, the pollinators. Unless you've been living under a rock, you've probably heard that domestic honeybee populations have plummeted in recent years. Farmers in North Carolina and across the US face a dramatic shortage of hives to pollinate their crops. Nearly half the managed beehives in NC have been lost since the mid-1980’s.

But did you know that wild pollinators are even worse off? While their populations are hard to track, biologists estimate that wild pollinators have suffered a 95% population decline in NC in the same time period. New research shows that wild pollinators are even more important to our food supply than domesticated bees. A recent study looking at 40 different crops across the globe showed that wild pollinators are twice as effective as honeybees in their pollination efforts. This is in part due to the variety of pollination techniques used by wild pollinators, as well as a tendency to cross-pollinate (honeybees usually pollinate within a single plant). 

We must act now to stop the pollinator collapse, or we will be very hungry people before long. We're already seeing the effects of fewer pollinators on the planet. Yields in crops that do not require pollination are growing at a much faster rate than those that do, and more and more farmers are finding it necessary to rent hives from around the country to ensure the success of their crops. Among crops requiring pollination are some of our favorite foods: cucumbers, almonds, blueberries, watermelon, apples, strawberries, melons and peaches all require pollination. If we fail to address the causes of these losses, we may soon have to give up many of the foods we love.

But many voices are telling us not to act. Pesticide makers argue loudly that their chemicals aren't to blame. They pay troops of scientists to create data that distract our attention from the harmful effects of agrochemicals on bees, butterflies and birds. But agrochemicals like the widely used class of insecticide, neonicotinoids, are strongly linked to declines in honey and bumblebee populations. There are plenty of other contributing factors besides pesticides, of course.

Hang around any beekeeper, and you’re sure to hear about the Varroa mite’s attack on their hives, introducing RNA viruses that disrupt hive function and can eventually lead to colony collapse. Climate change has been linked to an increasing incongruity between when bees are active and when flowers are in bloom. Pesticides, pathogens, climate change, decreased crop diversity and habitat destruction all play a part, individually, and in combination. 

But having many factors involved is no excuse to sit back and let a disaster happen. We must act now to fix what we can! The overuse of pesticides is a huge contributor to these declines. Pesticides kill beneficial insects and pollinators like bees and butterflies that are necessary to provide a healthy ecosystem where we can thrive. Pollination is required for three-quarters of global food crops, and one of the things we can do right now to conserve these essential pollinators is to use fewer pesticides.

The US Department of Agriculture, and our state Commissioner of Agriculture should be acting fast to promote farm technology that protects pollinators: More organic farming, more Integrated Pest Management, ending the use of pesticides most highly toxic to bees, and creating incentives for farmers to diversify crops and provide more pollinator habitat. The pollinator collapse is a man-made disaster, and one that we can stop if we choose to. Let's choose wisely.