A visit to Gankosky Family Daycare, Farm to Early Care and Education Champion Awardee

Brockway, PA

by Deb Bentzel, The Food Trust

Gankosky Family Daycare is situated in the rolling hills of Jefferson County, PA in the small town of Brockway. Saddled in a valley dotted with dairy, beef and vegetable farms and factories, Brockway is home to a glass factory and about 2,000 residents. On a typical day, Irene Gankosky has three to four children in her care who play, get their hands dirty in the sprawling garden in the back of the property and visit the family chickens across the road to gather fresh eggs. A caretaker by nature, Irene gravitated towards opening a daycare and decided several years ago to try planting some wheat in the yard as a means to experiment with gardening and a way to begin to use gardening as a means to teach the children in her care about how foods grow – the weather, the science and the fun of it! With the success of growing wheat, the garden has expanded over the past several years both in size and in variety of fruits and vegetables grown.

Today, the garden boasts a healthy strawberry patch and blueberry shrubs alongside neatly organized rows of tomatoes, potatoes, onions, peas and other vegetables. Children at the daycare are involved in every part of growing the garden – from turning over the soil to planting, watering, harvesting and, ultimately, eating the plants they nurtured over time. Gankosky Family Daycare provides breakfast, lunch and snacks to children through the USDA’s Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), and Irene takes pride in offering her children high-quality, homemade and fresh foods like home-baked whole wheat bread, fresh produce from the garden and other healthy items throughout the day. The administrative details and the effort of creating systems to administer CACFP on-site are worth the effort, says Irene. The garden at Gankosky Family Daycare most recently underwent another transformation when a small greenhouse was erected and an arbor was put in place for climbing plants like pole beans. Irene looks forward to another garden-focused meal in which many of the items offered to children have been harvested straight from the garden by her young gardeners.