Banned Preschool Farm Stand Finally Opens Again

Kid-grown kale and mint will be for sale.

Kids in the garden.

Linden Tree Photography / Little Ones Learning Center

It took about a year of legal wrangling, public outcry, and city council voting — then a pandemic-related pause — but a tiny preschool farm stand is finally back in business.

The Little Ones Learning Center in Forest Park, Georgia, had been forced by the city to shut down its produce stand in August 2019 due to zoning issues. After months of back and forth with local officials, the stand was given the go-ahead to open last summer. Because of the pandemic, the school was only able to squeeze in a couple of small sales before the end of the growing season.

Today, 20 months later, is the true grand reopening in this small city just nine miles south of Atlanta. And the kids and educators are so excited.

“How do I say this without sounding so cheesy? It’s like I feel like a gladiator,” Wande Okunoren-Meadows, executive director of The Little Ones Learning Center, tells Treehugger. “Everyone said that this fight was not worth it. But tell me what’s so wrong with selling fresh fruit and vegetables? If we give up now, that’s the antithesis of what we teach our kids of how standing up for ourselves is supposed to work.”

The Farm Stand Story

child in garden with green beans

Linden Tree Photography / Little Ones Learning Center

At Little Ones, kids do the typical preschool things that involve letters, numbers, and lots of Crayons. But they also get to go work in their backyard garden. They dig in the dirt, plant seeds, and harvest and eat their crops when they are ready.

The garden originally started for kids who needed to get outside in nature for a little bit. After all, no one should sit inside all day, Okunoren-Meadows says. Then parents got involved in this burgeoning project and soon the tiny garden was producing peppers, carrots, beans, squash, and many types of greens.

With all that abundance, school administrators decided to sell produce twice a month at a little farm stand to parents and people in the neighborhood. They partnered with local farmers to supplement what was offered at the small stand and to support local growers.

Because the school is located in an area where many people have limited funds for fresh produce, they offered two-for-one discounts when customers paid with their SNAP benefits. It seemed like a win-win for everyone, Okunoren-Meadows says.

But the city shut down the stand in August 2019, saying the residential area wasn’t zoned for selling produce.

Community Outrage and Support

Kids show off their carrots.
Kids show off their carrots.

Little Ones Learning Center

While some people urged the preschool leaders not to fight, they decided they needed to set an example for the kids. And once the word got out, support (and outrage) spread from Forest Park to all over the country. One woman checked in from as far away as Australia.

Several people offered to pay the stop-gap monthly fee until a permanent solution was found. Others donated to the school’s non-profit Hand, Heart and Soul Project for soil, tools, and other garden supplies.

“It was a testament to the power of community,” Okunoren-Meadows says.

Eventually, the city council voted 4-1 in February 2020 to amend the zoning laws to allow more farm stands in the city. The school’s application for a permit was approved a few months later.

The Kids and Their Produce

child in garden with herbs

Linden Tree Photography / Little Ones Learning Center

At today’s farm stand, because it’s still early in the growing season, the kids will only be offering some homegrown rosemary, mint, and kale. The farmers will have potatoes, apples, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, onions, and collards. 

The teachers and kids have been talking about the first farm stand for weeks, the school’s curriculum coordinator Stacie McQuagge tells Treehugger.

“Their favorite thing to say when they find something in the garden is ‘I grew that,’” she says. “They really take responsibility. They pull weeds, they harvest if things are ready. It’s all about taking ownership of the garden. They make sure everybody knows it’s their garden. They planned it, they tended to it, and then they get to eat it.”

Growing food really opens up their horizons, McQuagge says.

“A few years ago we had a grandparent who didn’t know it was OK to eat raw vegetables," she says. "It not only teaches the kids but their families, new things. It’s OK to eat a carrot instead of a piece of candy.”

The Little Lions Farm Stand will be open to the public on the first and third Wednesdays of the month from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. through Nov. 18 at 993 Forest Avenue, Forest Park, Georgia.