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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!

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.


School Garden Resources NOW LIVE

The Illinois Farm to School Network has updated the toolkit section of the website. Now multiple resources for school gardening are available at School Garden Resources. The University of Illinois Extension has created and provided many resources for school and home use. These resources range from starting your first school garden and the need to know basics to what vegetables, herbs, fruits to grow and the different varieties.


If you are interested in composting, this can also be found under the school garden toolkit, offering tips and tricks for first timers. The University of Illinois Extension also provided additional curriculum resources ranging from preschoolers to 8th graders. The online resources are very engaging with colorful visuals, graphics, audio, and hands on experiences. Whether you are a home gardener or working with students, you will find these resources to be invaluable.

Another available resource is a standards-aligned school garden curriculum from Seven Generations Ahead. The curriculum, Sow and Grow, covers topics such as school gardens,  harvest seasons, plant life cycles, soil composition, composting, waste reduction, and insects. Sow and Grow educates students on the importance of growing fruits and vegetables. The curriculum is also a hands on experience where students will actually create school gardens and compost in school with their teachers and classmates. Educating children on gardening increases their knowledge of healthy foods and ultimately increases their consumption of healthy foods.


The National Association of State Boards of Education (NASBE) has found in their “Preventing Childhood Obesity School Health Policy Guide … that school children need behavior-focused healthy eating education that influences knowledge, attitudes and eating habits and that is coordinated with school meal programs. NASBE also concluded that traditional knowledge-based programs and curricula have not been effective.” Read more here. Children need a more hands on approach in learning and these resources apply both traditional learning techniques in synchronization with behavior-focused and hands on learning techniques.

Kickoff #FarmtoSchoolMonth with the Prairie Farm Corps

October is Farm to School Month, and what better way to start the month off and celebrate, than to read an inspiring story about the impact of Farm to School at the Liberty Prairie Foundation and their youth program Prairie Farm Corps.


Food Revolution Day is a movement with about 1.6 million members across 196 countries that support food education for children and sustainable food practices. The goal is to provide children with food knowledge to help them lead happier and healthier lives. The fact is, there are 42 million children across the planet that are under the age of five who are obese or overweight (WHO, 2013 – Read more here). In order to increase the children’s
knowledge about food and decrease overweight and obesity, food and nutrition it must be taught in schools. The Food Revolution organization and movement is led by Jamie Oliver, in hopes to continue to gain support and grab the attention of governments to take action. Join the cause and sign the petition here.

Terri Salminen and her comrade Lindsey Shifley are both super ambassadors at Food Revolution. Terri shared a blog post of her personal experience of meeting Lindsey and finding their common hopes to educate children about food and how to cook. Terri also describes their journey to develop a recipe book, educate children how to grow foods and incorporate those foods straight from the garden and create a recipe.

Prairie Farm Corps is a program held by the Liberty Prairie Foundation, a 501(c)(3) private operating foundation in Grayslake, Illinois. Prairie Crossing Farm is an organic farm that is the source of the food used in the Prairie Farm Corps youth program. This is an interactive and educational program where young boys and girls can learn to plant, grow, harvest, and cook organic, locally procured food.



The Prairie Farm Corps. Food Revolution Ambassador Story

By Terri Salminen
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It started with a dream.

Lindsey Shifley (Food Revolution Super Ambassador located in Lake County, Illinois) and I (Terri Salminen, fellow Food Revolution Super Ambassador located in Haarlem the Netherlands) shared our thoughts and hopes for a better world talking about how we could make a change starting from our own kitchen table.

We compared notes and experiences and even cooked together across continents starting in 2013. I sent a few favorite recipes of mine and Lindsey cooked and filmed her shared family experiences in a few fun “ambassador smashes” on film. Like in real life, sometimes things went perfectly — and sometimes — our efforts bordered on a minor disaster.

A friendship was born.

Last summer while I was in Texas, Lindsey wrote to me about her visit to a farm to table educational program just miles from her home. She had been invited as Food Revolution ambassador to the Prairie Farm Corps celebration dinner at the beautiful Prairie Farm Crossing in Grayslake, Illinois. After eating lunch prepared by the teenage crew —with ingredients from their very own harvest — Lindsey was in heaven.

In the course of writing notes and emails back and forth, we both realized that we not only shared similar hopes, we also shared the desire to teach and to learn, sharing our knowledge of good food with our surroundings to create a better world. We both agreed our next step was to channel our energies in a learning situation involving young people ready and able to change the future with real food.
As fall passed into winter, our dream took shape into a plan. Our imagination turned into reality when Lindsey approached the director of the Prairie Farm Corps, introducing us as a Food Revolution team-duo.
We explained our thoughts, talked in conference calls and came to the conclusion that the Prairie Farm Corps would be our first team effort venue in farm to table cooking.

Lindsey and I worked avidly this spring from across the ocean, preparing for a first-ever presence of guest chefs at the amazingly inspiring Prairie Crossing Farm. We felt that our task was to provide as many building blocks as possible to the 2015 student crew to help them to gain what I like to call “kitchen confidence”. Seeing the connection between the garden and the kitchen are the tools to a healthy and happy future. On this and on so many things — Lindsey and I agree!

As guests in the kitchen located in the charming blue farmhouse in Grayslake, Lindsey took part in the program from the start of the summer with “Food Revolution Wednesdays”, where she cooked four course meals highlighting vegetables from the garden. I was there in mind, having written the recipes based upon the available vegetables from the local garden and inspired by Lindsey’s food favorites. The Food Revolution menus were inspired!

Finally for the very first time since we met, we were at the same place at the same time.

From July 13th through July 23rd Lindsey and I formed a duo in the kitchen — working together at the same place and the same time! It was beyond any of our expectations! With more than 140 basic recipes that I had written to form “The Kitchen Notebook”, Lindsey and I divided tasks in the kitchen, working with small groups of the Prairie Farm Corps crew and their kitchen lead in the for two full days each.

Every day focused on entirely unique types of food preparation and cooking methodologies. Our energetic team-driven efforts went hand in hand with making lunch for the PFC and Prairie Farm Crossing crew.
Every kitchen experience and each shared lunch menu was based upon simple and unique types of cooking. Using a pantry of basic ingredients we taught the students with “The Kitchen Notebook” how versatile and delicious vegetables truly are.

Using essentials like flours, grains, seeds, oil, vinegar and honey (just to name a few) the students quickly learned how to cook simple and colorful food. They mastered how to make their own vegetable broth, what a soffritto does for a stew, how to fill Napa cabbage or rainbow chard — and how to bake their own pita bread, pizza and sweet fruit tarts. At the end of the summer the students were cooking together in the kitchen teaching each other their menu favorites to showcase during their end-of-the-summer celebration dinner in the first week of August.

This summer’s project started with a “What if. . . . .”

It ended much too quickly with a book full of recipes and memories. Lindsey and I taught in the blue farmhouse kitchen and learned from the fields.

P.S. Some magical nights of cooking together took place at the Byron Colby Barn this July during the first hands-on workshops at the Prairie Crossing Farm. Four course meals with the season’s harvested vegetables were the focus of each sold-out workshop!

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Special thanks
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This project came to life due to the spectacular support of
. Eric Carlburg . Prairie Farm Corps Director and educator.
. Erin Cummisford . Director of Marketing . Communications and Special Projects
. Brad Leibov . President and CEO