Good Natured Family Farms: Farmer meets chef, Head Start kids win

On a 400-acre farm in southeast Kansas, an abundant harvest led to a transformative business venture that today brings farm fresh food to schools, groceries, workplaces and Head Start centers.

In 1995, Diana Endicott and her husband returned to Kansas and their farming roots to raise cattle, grow produce and start Rainbow Organic Farms. Two years later, faced with a plethora of ripe tomatoes, Diana reached out to Balls Food Stores, a Kansas City grocery chain, to sell the excess produce. This partnership led to the creation of Good Natured Family Farms (GNFF), now a self-sustaining food production and distribution alliance of more than 150 regional farms.

Within a decade, GNFF had reached a level of financial profitability that afforded Endicott the opportunity to extend GNFF’s reach to underserved children. She did so by teaming up with Bistro Kids chef Kiersten Firquain. 

Firquain, also known as Chef K, founded Bistro Kids with the intent of feeding as many school kids as possible with fun, seasonal and healthy food, made from scratch and sourced locally whenever possible. With Firquain’s desire to get healthy food into schools and Endicott’s goal to extend local food to kids who need it most, an enduring partnership was born.

Funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation enabled GNFF and Bistro Kids to pilot a farm to preschool project at Plaza del Niños Head Start center, the first farm to preschool program in Kansas City. WKKF funding also allowed Bistro Kids to provide nutrition education classes to help kids make the connection between healthy food and their well-being.

By focusing on Head Start preschools, Bistro Kids and GNFF reach children who are most in need of fruits and vegetables at a crucial time in their development.  

“Our mission is simple: we want to help kids establish healthy eating habits at an early age (three- to five-years-old), when their taste buds are just forming,” says Firquain. Bistro Kids does this by introducing kids to fresh, unprocessed food through experiential activities like cooking classes, farm visits and growing school vegetable gardens so kids can learn about where their food comes from and how to prepare it.

Education is key with Head Start. The Bistro Kids chefs give monthly classes on how to cook with what kids are growing in the garden. Each Friday, they do something fun, like inviting bison farmers who bring dried bison meat on sticks for kids to taste and bison pelts for kids to see and feel. Other days a honey farmer might visit with his bees, bee masks and, of course, tasty honey samples. Hands-on education and repeated exposure encourage kids to be open to unexpected new foods, like yellow watermelon. 

Ultimately, eating the fruits (or vegetables) of their labor leads the kids to embrace healthy food. Kids relish and finish the steamed cabbage on their plates, because they took a part in growing it. They ask for apples on the way home from a field trip to the healthy foods aisle, when on the way there they wanted potato chips. This behavior change is a testament to the program’s effectiveness and shows the value of integrating fun nutrition education to teach kids about the benefits of good food. 

“We get emails from parents saying their kids are asking for broccoli the way Chef Mark made it. They’ve never eaten it at home and now parents are seeking out the recipes because their kids are demanding vegetables!” recounts Firquain. 

Today, in partnership with GNFF, Bistro Kids serves nine Head Start locations in Kansas City and five early learning centers in Wichita, Kansas. In total, the program serves 4,500 meals a day to 1,500 children. It continues to grow and is extending service to older kids to provide healthy afterschool snacks.

With its solid distribution network and long-standing partnerships, GNFF has helped Bistro Kids solve the challenge of procurement. GNFF’s alliance with food hub warehouses is a valuable asset; infrastructure for storing and transporting food has been paramount to keeping the program growing.

The Bistro Kids partnership is one of many ways GNFF is staying true to its mission of supporting local farmers and bringing high quality local foods to consumers. With everyone bringing their strengths to supporting a sustainable supply chain, there are more avenues for farm fresh food to reach low-income communities. It’s a win for the regional economy and for Kansas City’s children.

Grant Details

Rainbow Organic Farms

Bronson, Kansas, United States

Reduce obesity and improve the health of Greater Kansas City’s children by informing, advocating, and mobilizing the resources and talents of the community to ensure access to nutritious and affordable foods

Healthy Kids
May 1, 2010 - April 30, 2014
$1,500,000

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“Empleen el dinero del modo en que crean conveniente, siempre y cuando promueva la salud, la felicidad y el bienestar de los niños.” - Will Keith Kellogg

“Sèvi ak lajan an jan w vle depi se sante timoun, byennèt timoun ak kè kontan pou timoun w ap ankouraje.” - W.K. Kelòg