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Apple Crunch Success in Illinois

Did you hear that? That’s the sound of Illinois Farm to School participation on the rise!

By Diane Chapeta, Illinois Farm to School Network

“CRUNCH!” That was the sound heard across Illinois yesterday as 350,000 students took a bite out of local apples in cafeterias, on playgrounds, and in their classrooms. The second annual Illinois Great Apple Crunch, a part of the Midwest Apple Crunch and inspired by the Food Day Apple Crunch, has taken apples out of Illinois orchards, literally, and placed them into the hands of Illinois students.

You may be thinking “Apples- kids… that’s not exactly news.”

Nature Exploration Academy

Nature Exploration Academy

Well, you’d be wrong. Let me explain.

It’s true that children have a propensity toward eating apples. Apples make up the second largest category of fruit eaten by school-age children in our country, with bananas topping that list. Kindergarten students sing songs about Johnny Appleseed, a real American pioneer nurseryman by the name of John Chapman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ontario, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present-day West Virginia.  And, you can trace apple lore all the way back to the beginning of our country’s history. Apples have inspired songs and popular sayings like “An apple a day keeps the doctor away!” and “As American as apple pie!” So, why all the fuss when Illinois students bite into apples on a beautiful, sunny day in October?

Local. A very powerful word. Education. Another, equally powerful word. When you incorporate both into a school activity designed to reach thousands of kids across our state you begin to make a change in how those kids perceive fresh food, and who sells those fresh foods to school programs.

How can Illinois school children biting into Illinois apples not be a win/win?

East Richland Community Unit School District 1

East Richland Community Unit School District 1

Yesterday, our office joined the Apple Crunch festivities at Rockford Public Schools, along with Acting Branch Chief Eleanor Thompson of the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Midwest Regional branch. We were excited to be part of this event for two reasons. First, this was Rockford Public School’s first foray into the Great Apple Crunch. And, second? This is the first time our state stood firmly in the lead for Apple Crunch participation during the Mid-West Crunch! Yes!

That last fact is very telling, indeed. It tells us that schools across Illinois are beginning to participate in farm to school activities. And, as more and more districts begin activities integrating farm to school into their lunch programs and classrooms, local foods and food education are slowly taking center stage.

As of yesterday, Rendleman’s Orchard in Alto Hills, IL, an Illinois Centennial Farm and a supplier to the Crunch, was sold out of smaller sized apples. Those small apples have the least amount of “marketability” for local growers. And, selling out of small apples? That was a direct result of participation in the Illinois Great Apple Crunch.

Hello Lydia,


Kreitner Elementary School

I want to thank you for all the work you have done to promote healthy eating and local produce in our Illinois schools. The movement also has a huge impact for family farms and the Illinois rural economy. It was exciting to see our apples in the       school’s cafeteria through the picture attached. Thank You!

Wayne Sirles, President Rendleman’s Orchard


More local food being purchased by local schools.

More student education on nutrition and whole foods.

Really, what’s not to love?

Great Apple Crunch Highlights

Did you hear that? That was the sound of almost 600,000 students, teachers, parents, and farm to school supporters CRUNCHING into local apples for the Second Annual Great Apple Crunch. Over 850 schools, preschools, colleges, non-profits, state agencies and others across the midwest celebrated National Farm to School Month by crunching into locally grown apples on Thursday, October 22nd.

Participants joined in on the Great Apple Crunch from across the region, including Ohio, Illinois, Michigan, Indiana, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. Over 830 schools and 530,000 students crunched to show their support of farm to school throughout the week –  from small towns like Hastings, MI, and Manitowoc, WI, to big cities like Minneapolis and Chicago. In Wisconsin over 30 orchards participated in the Crunch!

This was the first time participating for Illinois, and we had a strong start with support from schools, students, media outlets, and many organizations. The highlights of the articles that were published online along with links to the original publications can be found below.

Lombard, IL

Community Contributor, Jay Wojcik, wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 9th. Jay wrote about the activities occurring in Lombard, IL for the Great Apple Crunch and stated the participation of the Healthy Lombard Foundation during this event. Kids were encouraged to join by eating apples at noon on October 22nd or going to their local Jewel-Osco in Lombard, which gave out coupons for apples. Read more here.

Bloomington, IL

Kay Shipman wrote an article on the Illinois Farm Bureau’sfarmweeknow photo GAC radio and news website, Kay wrote about Bloomington High School seniors who were eating local apples prior to the event. Bloomington HS received their apples from local grower, Flamm Orchards of Cobden, IL. Kay interviewed Cynthia Haskins and Kevin Daugherty from IFB, both of whom were invaluable partners with IFSN to make this pilot event so successful. Read the original article here.

Illinois Farm Bureau, Illinois Agriculture in the Classroom (IAITC) and Illinois Farm to School Network collaborated on the pilot project to encourage Illinois schools to use Illinois-grown apples “as supplies allow,” said Cynthia Haskins, IFB manager of business development and compliance.

IAITC and county ag literacy coordinators helped distribute 5,000 posters promoting the project as well as classroom apple activities offered in the new apple Ag Mag … We’re promoting everybody eat an Illinois apple on national Farm To School Day Oct. 22,” said Kevin Daugherty, IFB education director.

Springfield, IL and the Springfield State Journal-Register posted articles about the Great Apple Crunch. stated that the event promotes healthy eating and “The Great Apple Crunch is a great way to showcase local Midwestern food and farmers.” Read more here.

Rich Saal from the SJ-R posted the week of October 19-25 under the visual ifjournal, showcasing pictures and events from each day of the week. For october 22nd, the Great Apple Crunch was showcased. First graders from Enos School were shown  crunching into their apples with just a few teeth. Apples eaten in the district were donated by local grower Rendleman Orchards in Altopass, IL. Read more here.

Bensenville, IL

The Bensenville School District posted their activities and celebration for the first Great Apple Crunch on their school website. The school district stated that the students would be crunching into local Fuji and Golden Delicious apples from Michigan.  This event is a way of increasing student education to eat local fruits and vegetables. View their posting here or their newsletter here.

Carbondale, IL

On Great Apple Crunch Day, Kevin Boucher, from WSIU posted a short audio interview with Lydia Mills, SGA Illinois Farm to School Coordinator, and Ulli Tragoudas, Food Service Director at Unity Point School in Carbondale. Lydia can be heard describing the event and its purpose while Ulli describes the excitement and reactions from the students at Unity Point, which is one of many Southern Illinois Schools that participated in the event. The original article and interviews can be read and heard here.

Macomb, IL

Western Illinois University published a story about their Communicating Agriculture Issues students who have been working on agriculture advocacy projects. One project occurred on Oct 22, during the Great Apple Crunch. WIU students passed out apple slices with caramel around campus while informing fellow students about apple facts and asking them to support local Illinois Apple farmers. Read more here.


ISBE Endorses Great Apple Crunch

Great Apple Crunch noGL

The Illinois State Board of Education has officially endorsed the Great Apple Crunch, an event happening in schools across the state on October 22nd, 2015. Check out the endorsement letter here: ISBE Endorses Great Apple Crunch.

Want to learn more about how your school can participate? The Illinois Farm to School Network is hosting an informational webinar on September 15th. Please register if you can attend or if you would like to receive the recording. Here is some more information about the webinar:

On September 15th at 2pm, the Illinois Farm to School Network is holding an informational webinar on how to participate in the first Illinois Great Apple Crunch – a day for students to ‘crunch’ into a local apple and learn about food! Get free materials, including menu signs and cafeteria activity worksheets. Get ideas for how to publicize your event and involve your school community. The webinar is free and open to all teachers, school food service professionals and school administrators. The webinar will be recorded and emailed to all registrants. Register here.