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Granite State Rumblings: “Farm To Preschool” Program For Healthy Eating and The NH Budget Battle Continues

It is never easy trying to entice younger children to eat their fruits and veggies. But I found that a few great ways to get our Spidey to try them is to grow them in a garden in our backyard, trips to the farmer’s market, and pick our own blueberries and strawberries at a local farm, and then have him help prepare them into tasty delights in my kitchen.

This month’s USDA blog has some great information about the “farm to preschool” program that is gaining interest across the country.

Farm to Preschool Helps Healthy Habits Take Root Early

Posted by Kacie O’Brien, Farm to School Regional Lead, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, Western Region

“May I have more kale chips, please?” asked a four-year old preschooler during one of my first site visits as farm to school lead for the Food and Nutrition Service’s Western Region. The preschoolers I was visiting grew and harvested the kale themselves a few feet beyond their classroom door and were enjoying the crisp treat as a snack. At the time, the USDA Farm to School Program was just beginning to expand their support to K-12 schools. Since then, I have worked with school districts in bringing the farm to their cafeterias and classrooms.

Our reasons for supporting farm to preschool are numerous. While the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 authorized the USDA Food and Nutrition Service to establish the Farm to School Program, the legislation also expanded the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) to not only aid child care institutions in serving nutritious foods, but to contribute to their wellness, healthy growth and development. Farm to preschool meets that requirement, and is recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a strategy to increase access to healthy environments. As evidenced by the eager kale chip request, farm to preschool efforts can set the stage for a lifetime of healthy eating.

Through CACFP, more than 3.3 million children receive healthy meals every day as part of the day care they receive. CACFP offers a viable market for local and regional farmers, ranchers, and fisherman, as well as food processors, manufacturers, and distributors. Additionally, with parental involvement and hands-on activities as regular practices, early child care settings are a natural fit for connecting children and families with where and how their food is produced.

From Georgia to Oregon, statewide support to implement the farm to preschool program is growing. For National Farm to School Month, the Kansas Department of Education created a Taste of Kansas CACFP menu featuring products grown and produced within the state. Also, the South Carolina Department of Agriculture hired a farm to preschool specialist and offers a whole host of resources on their farm to preschool website.

USDA resources include a new farm to preschool fact sheet, farm to preschool website and a policy memo encouraging early child care providers to use local food as a means to enhance CACFP operations. For 2016, we expanded the USDA Farm to School Grant Program to include school-based CACFP programs. We are updating existing resources, including the Procuring Local Foods for Child Nutrition Programs Guide, and adapting our hands-on garden-themed curriculum Grow It! Try It! Like It! to fit the needs of day care homes.

Keep your eyes peeled and sign-up for the USDA Farm to School E-letter to stay up-to-date as we further engage with and meet the needs of CACFP providers in offering local foods, garden activities, and more.

Growing Up Granite

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

Sununu Youth Services-Manchester (image by Prime Roofing Corp)

The budget discussions taking place in Concord include talks about the John H. Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester. “The state spending plan passed this year by the Republican-controlled House and Senate – but vetoed by Hassan – directed the Sununu Center to cut its $28 million budget by roughly $5.1 million over the next two years and to come up with a plan to reduce its costs, which could include privatizing services or repurposing the building.”

“Juveniles placed in the Sununu Youth Services Center (SYSC) range in age from 13 to 17 years old. When a youth is committed to SYSC a systematic process is used to classify and assign youths to a secure residential unit where they participate in a prescribed behavioral program. The program encompasses academia, cottage life and group sessions. Progress in all three spheres is measured using a rating system with progress regularly communicated to the youth. Program completion and ultimate eligibility for release and parole from SYSC is determined by the youth’s progress in addressing identified problem areas and program goals based on assessment by the youth’s Program Team. The Program Team is comprised of a unit clinical coordinator, resident house leader, youth counselor, education representative, juvenile services officer, parent or guardian and the youth. The average length of stay prior to initial release from SYSC is 8-12 months. A NH juvenile may be committed to the SYSC subsequent to being adjudicated as delinquent by a NH District Court.”

– Source DHHS website

Hassan tours Sununu Youth Services Center amid budget conversation about how to reduce costs

by ALLIE MORRIS Monitor staff

A dozen teenage girls, in matching pink sweatshirts and tan pants, lined up before a rainbow-colored welcome sign to shake Gov. Maggie Hassan’s hand before they gingerly walked her to a hallway lined with their drawings, paintings and collages.

One by one, each showed Hassan her artwork taped to tan cinder-block walls and large windows. Hassan paused in front of a black-and-white pencil drawing of a lion, in mid-roar, and asked the young artist what had inspired the picture. “Courage,” the teen responded.

The girls live at the Sununu Youth Services Center in Manchester, the state’s juvenile detention facility.

Hassan toured the Manchester facility Friday amid an ongoing state budget conversation about how to reduce costs at the detention center as its population continues to decline.

The Sununu Center is run by the state Department of Health and Human Services and houses 12- to 17-year-olds who were detained or committed by the courts. Roughly 248 children come through the facility each year. And although the center was designed to fit 144 children at its campus off Elm Street, the population usually hovers around 50.

Lawmakers are now considering ways to cut state costs at the facility – budgeted at roughly $14 million annually – and make better use of the space.

Some ideas include turning a portion of the detention center into a treatment facility for youth with mental illness or substance abuse problems.

A group of lawmakers and stakeholders, put together by Senate Finance Committee Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester, will begin meeting Aug. 17 to discuss options.

“We’re looking at the facility and saying, ‘What else could we do with the facility as it relates to youth?’ ” said Forrester, a Meredith Republican. “It’s just not an effective use of the space.”

There is also a sense of urgency. The state spending plan passed this year by the Republican-controlled House and Senate – but vetoed by Hassan – directed the Sununu Center to cut its $28 million budget by roughly $5.1 million over the next two years and to come up with a plan to reduce its costs, which could include privatizing services or repurposing the building. The cost-cutting proposal was supposed to be submitted by November and implemented beginning Jan. 1, 2016.

Since the budget was vetoed, lawmakers are now back at the table negotiating a compromise, and how to fund and use the Sununu Center will likely be a point of debate. Members of both parties agree the center’s operations need to be looked at.

Hassan proposed an updated budget in July that would restore the Sununu Center funding cuts and direct the center to come up with a plan by March.

“We do have to plan for how this center should be funded in the future and how it should operate with what looks like a significantly smaller census,” Hassan said after the Sununu Center tour Friday. But she said the state shouldn’t be cutting the center’s budget without any plan in place about how to proceed.

The center’s future will remain in limbo until lawmakers finalize a state budget plan. But in the meantime, Forrester and the work group will start coming up with a cost-cutting plan. “We can’t be sitting around waiting to see what happens,” she said. The first meeting will be a tour of the Sununu Center.

Department of Health and Human Services officials said they are ready to participate.

“We want to do what’s best for the kids,” said Mary Ann Cooney, HHS associate commissioner.

On Friday morning, Hassan left the center with a new hat, made for her by one of the students, and a basket full of fresh produce the kids had grown in their garden.

She heard from the teens that the state needs more options for substance abuse treatment, she said, and that the center’s chaplains are some of the most valuable resources.

“The kids, they find the work they are doing here is work they need to do so they can stay focused and constructive outside the Sununu Center,” she said. “They are learning here to focus, and to ask for help when they need it.”

(Allie Morris can be reached at 369-3307 or at amorris@cmonitor.com.)

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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