Efforts take locally grown foods from farms to school cafeterias

Today, nearly a half-million Illinois students will get a local taste as part of Great Apple Crunch Day activities.

By Kay Shipman

Apples deliver a tasty way to connect students with local farms, especially today, Great Apple Crunch Day. Around Illinois, roughly 460,000 kids will bite into locally grown apples, joining more than 1 million students in the Great Lakes region.

“This is a way for Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) to incorporate local and regional foods into the classroom,” said Kevin Daugherty, Illinois Farm Bureau education director. “Apple Crunch Day makes a direct connection from farm to table.”

When the crunching celebration first started several years ago, “it didn’t seem that doable. Not a lot of Illinois schools were buying local,” said Lydia Van Slyke, farm to school program manager with the nonprofit Seven Generations Ahead, based in Oak Brook. Seven Generations Ahead serves as Illinois’ lead organization for the National Farm to School Network. 

The idea grew. Now Chicago Public School students will munch apples, along with students in Carbondale, the Quad Cities, Bloomington, Champaign and many other cities and towns, according to Van Slyke.

For IAITC, individual county ag literacy coordinators are conducting activities in their respective areas, Daugherty added. Click here for more information.

New this year, Harvest of the Month seeks to add more locally and regionally grown foods to school menus. Each month, a different fruit or vegetable is highlighted.

Participating schools receive a variety of information and educational materials. Resources include food-related classroom lessons, nutritional information and recipes. Visit harvestillinois.org.

Champaign Unit 4 Schools offers Harvest of the Month at all 18 of its buildings with 10,000 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, said Laura Dees, the district’s assistant food service director.

Each month, the district highlights locally grown food on its menu, which is available online and with a free app. Information about the farm is included on the menu, “so families know the local source,” Dees said.

Starting with cucumbers from Arcola, Champaign students also were served 3,000 ears of fresh sweet corn and bell peppers. Carrot fries are featured in October.

“We’re introducing and showing some students who may not have seen these before,” Dees said. “Our goal is to get kids to try something new.”

Dees added she heard reports that “the ones who tried it, liked it.”

The district works with Central Illinois Produce to find the volume of locally grown foods needed to serve its student population.

The program’s flexibility considers seasonality and what’s available in Illinois during the school year, Dees noted. “It’s important for kids to know about growing seasons,” she said.

The content for this story was provided by FarmWeekNow.com.

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