- Associated Press - Saturday, May 7, 2016

PARKERSBURG, W.Va. (AP) - Providing children with fresh produce at an early age is one of the goals of a new program offered through the Child Care Food Program at Community Resources in Parkersburg.

Based on the national “Farm to Child Care” initiative, the new program works through CR’s in-home child care providers to provide more fresh fruits and vegetables to the children being cared for and served from infancy through 13 years.

Amy Snodgrass, co-director of the Child Care Food Program at Community Resources, said the program held one of its regular training sessions on April 30 at the Friendship Kitchen in Parkersburg for the in-home child care providers. The program focused on nutrition training for the providers who care for children in their homes under Community Resources and included the new fresh produce program which will incorporate home gardening into the existing program.

Snodgrass said there are 65 providers in 10 counties under the program, who provide in-home day care, along with meals and snacks which are re-imbursed to the providers through the federal Child Care Food program, which also supports school lunch programs.

The local counties represented on April 30 included Calhoun, Doddridge, Gilmer, Jackson, Pleasants, Ritchie, Roane, Tyler, Wirt and Wood.

“Farm to Child Care” is a growing trend nationally, Snodgrass said. It seeks to provide more fresh produce for children to eat. A lot of child care providers don’t have access to gardens or gardening opportunities, she said.

As an example, about 15 out of the local 65 providers have access to gardens, some personally and others through community garden programs like Point Park Marketplace in downtown Parkersburg.

Since it can be difficult to get children to a garden, the local CCF program recently came up with the idea of bringing the gardens to the children and received support in a grant from the Sisters Health Foundation, formerly the Sisters of St. Joseph Charitable Fund, Snodgrass said.

Following the April 30 training session, every provider was given a basic raised gardening kit from Lowes and three large bags of gardening soil. The kit, which measures 4 feet by 4 feet, can be set up similar to a child’s outdoor sandbox, filled with gardening soil and then planted with fruits and vegetables.

“What this will allow the 65 providers to do is garden at their home. It will allow fresh produce to be used in meals and snacks” for the children receiving care, Snodgrass said.

Snodgrass said officials have seen growing interest in such programs across the country through “Farm to Child Care” and similar initiatives. More schools are planting gardens and using the fresh produce in school meals, she said.

“Children are not eating fresh produce because people don’t have access to that. It’s allowing the meals and snacks to be all fresh, with fresh produce. The earlier you start introducing children to fresh produce and fresh vegetables, they will eat it. It will create a habit for a lifetime,” she said.

Snodgrass believes the new initiative will have a large impact locally. Among the 65 providers locally, she said about 17,000 meals and snacks are provided each month to about 500 children enrolled in the child care program. She believes the incorporation of fresh produce will have a positive impact.

Snodgrass said each provider will have a choice about what they want to grow based on the likes of the children they care for. To help get everyone started, the providers were given a variety of plants at the session on April 30, including strawberry plants, tomato plants, cucumbers, green peppers and squash.

Sheila Carpenter, of Parkersburg, has been involved in gardening in her family for years and began participating in the community gardens at Point Park Marketplace last year. She has been an in-home child care provider for 14 years and has incorporated her personal gardening interest with that work by getting the children she cares for involved in the activity.

“I’ve had children who helped pick and helped dig in the soil and pick the weeds,” Carpenter said. “They really enjoy picking the tomatoes and eating them.”

She was glad to see the home gardening effort expanding at the April 30 training session.

“I think it’s a great educational opportunity to get kids into farming and knowing where their fruits and vegetables come from. It’s just an enjoyable activity for the kids,” she said.

Lisa Bower, of Parkersburg, has been a care provider for about 10 years and has gardening experience, but was just getting started with combining the two as she took home a garden kit and soil on April 30.

“I think it’s awesome and should benefit the kids really well,” she said.

“They like to help and then eat it,” Bower said.

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Information from: News and Sentinel (Parkersburg, W.Va.), http://www.newsandsentinel.com

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