Chancellor’s Grant Funds Partnership To Create Local Food Network With County's Early Childhood Learning Centers

By Amanda Mlekush 

Preschool children across Watauga County may soon be tasting vegetables like leafy swiss chard and bell peppers grown by local farmers thanks to a 2024 App State Chancellor’s Innovation Scholars Program grant awarded to faculty members Dr. Sydeena Isaacs, Amanda Hege and Dr. Andrea Anderson. 

Andrea Anderson, Sydeena Isaacs and Amanda Hege Farm to ECE(From left: Dr. Andrea Anderson, Dr. Sydeena Isaacs and Amanda Hege are committed to sharing fresh, local foods with preschool children throughout Watauga County.)

The faculty members, representing the Beaver College of Health Sciences and the Reich College of Education, have varied expertise and interest in establishing a connection between fresh, local foods in early childhood and a desire to create a local Farm to Early Childhood Education (ECE) program. Anderson, who is executive director of Lucy Brock Child Development Lab, has strongly advocated and established a program that serves whole foods to its students; Isaacs and Hege are registered dietitian nutritionists, and parents to preschool-age children. 

“We all wanted to find ways to serve more local, fresh foods to children at childcare centers in Watauga, and foster healthy eating and physical activity at a young age,” said Hege.  

The children at Lucy Brock have already begun learning about the origin of freshly grown foods, from helping to wash and clean fruits and vegetables when the produce arrives to helping take care of the inhabitants of the new “worm farm” that will be used to enrich the soil for the lab’s on-site garden. 

Making Local Connections  

Serving fresh foods and establishing good eating habits early for preschoolers is just one of the benefits of the program, and metrics of success for the partnership, said Isaacs. 

“We’re interested in making this a sustainable program, and getting our partners, like the High Country Food Hub, Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture and the Blackburn Sustainable Development Farm, involved. By connecting those in our region who are passionate about fresh, local food with childcare centers in the area, we are able to create a network who will make this a priority,” she said.

This program will support the local economy, improve farmer profitability, and create a culture of health and wellness that extends beyond children to families, ECE teachers, childcare staff, and the High Country community, according to the grant funding application. 

Anderson, Isaacs and Hege Farm to ECe(The trio preps some fresh produce in the App State Nutrition Lab in the Beaver College of Health Sciences' Levine Hall.)

About Student Involvement In Project

Anderson noted that another tangible benefit of the grant is the potential impact on App State students studying education, nutrition or sustainable development. 

“We see this as a way to help our students and for them to get to experience being ‘boots on the ground’ and being part of this effort,” she said, adding that an App State Nutrition graduate student and a recent Sustainable Development program graduate have been hired to intern with the program this summer. 

“Our interns will be reaching out to other childhood education centers to help us expand our reach to more preschoolers, and may help create an interactive garden space at a center or create specific recipes with in-season produce,” said Anderson. “This opportunity will give the students a chance to take what they have learned in their studies and replicate it in the community with the impetus being on quality experiences for their population.”

About the Grant Funding

The Chancellor’s Innovation grant provides $10,000 in funding for one year. The group has also applied for and received funding from CEFS, or the Center for Environmental Farming Systems (a collaborative of NC State, NC A&T University and the NC Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services), and a grant from the USDA SPAN (State Physical Education and Nutrition) which was awarded through the NC Department of Health and Human Services. 

In total, the three grants have provided $31,000 in seed funding to create a sustainable and replicable Model Farm to Early Childhood Education Program. 

Lucy Brock will serve as the hub of the Farm to ECE program, and a potential pick-up spot for each week’s food distribution. The High Country Food Hub will be another distribution site for the centers while other centers may have their food delivered. 

A farm-to-ECE program at Appalachian State University will be the first of its kind in Watauga County and only the second to date in western North Carolina with the intent of developing a sustainable standard of practice model that can be replicated in other Early Care Education centers throughout the High Country and western North Carolina.

“We have flexibility with this grant to foster the success with the centers who are participating in the program,” said Isaacs. 

Even in the very early stages of beginning to plan a garden at Lucy Brock and talking with the kids about some of the first deliveries of vegetables from local farmers, the idea of how we are interconnected with our food systems and each other is already taking shape. 

“I think what some of our smallest learners at Lucy Brock are already grasping is that the world is a living, breathing thing and we have to take care of it,” said Anderson. “By caring for the worms living in their classroom worm farm, they’ve learned they have to be gentle because they are alive, and they need to be fed and kept out of direct sunlight. They may not have made that connection yet, but maybe caring for the planet starts with the worms.” 

About the Reich College of Education

Appalachian State University offers one of the largest undergraduate teacher preparation programs in North Carolina, graduating about 500 teachers a year. The Reich College of Education enrolls more than 2,000 students in its bachelor's, master's, education specialist and doctoral degree programs. With so many teacher education graduates working in the state, there is at least one RCOE graduate teaching in every county in North Carolina. Learn more at

About the Beaver College of Health Sciences

Appalachian State University’s Beaver College of Health Sciences (BCHS), opened in 2010, is transforming the health and quality of life for the communities it serves through interprofessional collaboration and innovation in teaching, scholarship, service and clinical outreach. BCHS offers 10 undergraduate degree programs, nine graduate degree programs and four certificates across six departments: Nursing, Nutrition and Health Care Management, Public Health and Exercise Science, Recreation Management and Physical Education, Rehabilitation Sciences, and Social Work. The college’s academic programs are located in the Holmes Convocation Center on App State’s main campus and the Levine Hall of Health Sciences, a state-of-the-art, 203,000-square-foot facility that is the cornerstone of Boone’s Wellness District. In addition, the college supports the Appalachian Institute for Health and Wellness and has collaborative partnerships with the Wake Forest University School of Medicine’s Physician Assistant Program, UNC Health Appalachian and numerous other health agencies. Learn more at


Woman wearing a polka dotted sweater washes carrots in an industrial sink.
Published: Apr 11, 2024 11:13am