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Friday, September 13, 2013 - 2:40am

Summit Links Local Produce To Pre-K

Trips to the grocery store can be a hassle for parents when their kids see all the processed, sugary, fatty foods marketers have convinced them they want.

Organizers of Georgia’s first-ever Farm to Preschool Summit this weekend hope to help change that by getting Georgia’s youngest students excited about locally grown fruits and vegetables.

“It turns that dynamic into the ‘nag’ factor where kids are asking for broccoli, they’re asking for spinach, they’re asking for carrots and apples,” said Erin Croom, farm to school director at Georgia Organics, one of the summit organizers. “They’ve had that experience in school where they’re able to garden, where they’re able to prepare a snack with a chef or with their teacher, where they’re able to go out to a farm on a field trip or to a garden to see these things growing, to taste them when they’re fresh and delicious.”

This farm-to-preschool movement is about curriculum as much as the actual foods students eat at school, Croom said. And that can be key to the tastes young children develop.

“Preschool is a time when kids are really forming their food preferences,” she said. “By the time they get to kindergarten, they’ve really already set the things they like to eat and the things they’re choosing. So if you’re catching them early you’re able to create a healthy foundation for them for the rest of their lives.”

The summit Friday and Saturday will gather 200 people from across Georgia to learn the best ways to incorporate more local produce into lesson plans and meals. Georgia Organics and the Georgia Farm to Preschool Coalition organized the conference with the support of state agencies.

“Only 2 percent of children are eating their servings of fruits and vegetables every day,” Croom said. “One in five kids is obese or overweight by the time they get to kindergarten, so we’re really missing an opportunity for early intervention and prevention.”

The source of those healthy foods matters, too, especially for local economies, Croom said.

“The more you spend inside your community, the more it stays in your community,” she said. “There was a research study that [the University of Georgia] conducted a few years ago that said if Georgia families just spent $10 a week on local food, that would keep $2 billion circulating in our state every year.

“So it’s pretty significant.”