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Farm to School Grant: First End of Year Wrap Up

The first school year of our USDA Farm to School grant is over, and we have done a lot out in Kane County with some wonderful and motivated schools. We’ve worked with teachers (from art to science!), food service directors, cafeteria staff, principals, and of course, lots of great students. With the help of the Kane County Fit For Kids program, we have had a lot of success in our three pilot districts of West Aurora SD 129, East Aurora SD 131, and CCSD 300 in the Carpentersville area.



While it took some time in the winter for us to organize our work in the school districts, by the end of the year we were growing and growing – just like the greens on the Tower Garden shown here at East Aurora High School. We installed Tower Gardens across Kane County and will be doing more to share curriculum resources and activities with teachers in the coming school year.

In addition to our direct work in the schools, we have also been hard at work behind the scenes to create an Illinois Harvest of the Month program. The goal of the program is to make it easy for school districts to buy and showcase local products on their menus with a monthly featured item. We conducted lots of taste tests at the pilot schools to develop ideas for what foods and activities work best. In the next school year, our three pilot school districts will begin rolling out Illinois Harvest of the Month! More information (plus a new website!) coming soon.

We are working hard this summer to prepare for the work next school year. We will do more hands on trainings with teachers, food service staff, and even local farmers to help them learn how to participate in the Harvest of the Month program. What we build through this grant will have a long term impact on farm to school throughout the state, and we could not be happier.



Summit Success

The Illinois Farm to School Summit was the first event hosted and coordinated by the Illinois Farm to School Network, and we had a great time in Springfield working with so many enthusiastic farm to school supporters!

Quick Facts:

  • Over 90 people from around the state registered for the conference, including teachers, food service staff, community advocates, and farmers.
  • Food service workers from school districts all over the state were able to quickly learn some advanced skills and cooked a huge meal from scratch.
  • We worked with five farms, including a local meat processor, to set our menu.
  • Composting at the Summit was able to divert over 50 pounds of food scraps from the landfill, meaning that we turned our local lunch into local soil!
  • We mapped out a strategic plan for farm to school in Illinois – which you will hear more about over the coming months.
  • Illinois farmers came out to speak about their participation in farm to school, including Wayne Sirles of Rendleman’s Orchards and Gary Neibrugge of the Krops 4 Kids Program.
  • The local CBS news affiliate brought a camera crew to document the incredible kitchen work – watch the coverage here!

We’ll share the strategic plan and workshop materials soon. Here are some great photos from the day, including the hands on cafeteria training and lunch!



Local Food Taste Tests

Have you ever passed by a free sample that you didn’t try? Perhaps if you’re trying to rush through the store, but generally, we humans really like to try new things when they’re free! Psychologists and marketers alike have always known this ‘Costco Principal’ – free food just makes people happy… and maybe a little bit more willing to spend money on new products.

Taste Test in AuroraWe like to apply this same principal to students, although we aren’t trying to make a quick buck off of them! The Illinois Farm to School program has been running taste tests at schools in our Farm to School pilot area of Kane County throughout the winter and spring. Our samples are healthy, fresh and tasty. Before handing them out, we tell the students where they were grown and ask them if they can guess what part of the plant the food is. It’s a process that takes just a few minutes, but the students are much more willing to try something new when it comes with a cool story.

What is the reasoning behind these fun, free sample lunch days? Well, studies show that children need lots of exposure to new foods before they are open to eating them more regularly. A lot of the time, we find that students look at the food (a green leafy veg, for example) very skeptically… eat it very skeptically… and then ask for another sample very skeptically! Not all kids enjoy new foods automatically, but being open to trying new things is a skill they need to develop.

These taste tests also help us gauge which locally available items would go over the best if they were to be added to a school menu. Radishes? Maybe not. Hydroponically grown pea sprouts and arugula? Yes, definitely!

Farm to school can be a lot of fun, but it has many challenges. Our taste tests have shown us that with time and repeated effort, many of these challenges are easily overcome. Kids across Kane County are loving their local food samples!

SGA Farm to School Grantee Official Press Release

Seven Generations Ahead Receives USDA Grant to Increase Local Foods in School Cafeterias

OAK PARK, Ill. – Seven Generations Ahead (SGA) is pleased to announce that they are one of 74 projects spanning 39 states receiving support this year through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Farm to School Program, an effort to better connect school cafeterias and students with local farmers and ranchers. Aurora, Ill., area Kane County Health Department and SGA received a $85,767 implementation grant to impact 48,387 students total across three school districts, West Aurora School District 129 (17 schools/centers), East Aurora School District 131 (20 schools/centers), and Carpentersville School District 300 (29 schools). 

“Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities,” said USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack. “By serving nutritious and locally grown foods, engaging students in hands-on lessons, and involving parents and community members, these programs provide children with a holistic experience that sets them up for a lifetime of healthy eating. With early results from our Farm to School Census indicating schools across the nation invested nearly $600 million in local products, farm to school also provides a significant and reliable market for local farmers and ranchers.”

SGA Executive Director Gary Cuneen said: “SGA is thrilled to receive this USDA Farm to School Program grant, and to be a part of the USDA’s efforts nationally to increase local, healthy food access and education in our nation’s schools. This project builds upon SGA’s 11-year farm to school program track record, and the Kane County Health Department’s leading edge work to build a local food hub that will link schools and institutions serving low-income children to Kane County and local area farmers.”

Together, SGA and Kane County will use implementation funds to build upon their track records and partnership to increase fresh, local food distribution, access and education within Kane County schools while building a sub-regional Kane County farm to school network as part of the new Illinois Farm to School Network (IFSN). The project will incorporate training and technical assistance targeting Illinois’ second largest city —Aurora — and a broader group of Kane County schools, which will focus on local food procurement, SGA’s curriculum modules and program activities, and school garden planning.  The project will support school districts with classroom and cafeteria promotions of healthy eating and locally grown food, and will coordinate with the Great Lakes Farm to School Network to implement fruit and vegetable promotional events that coincide with Nation Farm to School Month in October.

Farm to school programs are one of the many tools and resources USDA offers to help schools successfully serve healthier meals. In the past three years since the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, kids have eaten healthier breakfasts, lunches and snacks at school. Over 97 percent of schools report that they are successfully meeting the updated nutrition standards.  

In addition to school meals, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service administers several other nutrition programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (Commonly known as WIC), and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, these programs comprise America’s nutrition safety net. For more information, visit

Founded in 2001, Seven Generations Ahead’s (SGA) mission is to promote ecologically sustainable and healthy communities. SGA’s name is borrowed from the Native American principle, which states, “In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation.” Through community-wide sustainability planning and implementation, educational conferences and consulting, and school-based zero waste and farm to school programming and consulting, SGA is a catalyst for local solutions to global environmental issues. SGA’s work covers energy efficiency and renewable energy; transportation; community development; waste reduction; water conservation; green business development; local, sustainable food; open space and ecosystem enhancement; and education. SGA is the Illinois state lead agency for the National Farm to School program and facilitator of the Illinois Farm to School Network.