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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.



High Schoolers ‘Grow Their Grub’ in Springfield


spartan grow

School gardens are growing in Springfield, Illinois, alongside the rise in community gardens. Driving around Springfield, you can learn a lot about the growing seasons just by peeking at some of the many gardens you can find in parks or on the corner! These food gardens inspired teachers at Southeast High School to build a garden on their own grounds.

With the help of IFSN member genHkids, Southeast High School will break ground on their new school garden this fall.  It will be a garden of raised beds, fruit bushes, a compost station and a large welcome sign on school grounds.  Funds for the garden have been raised through grants and private donors, and the school is currently seeking more help to make their dreams a reality. Recently, $1000 was donated by local company Mike Williams Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning.  

garden layoutFood from the garden will be used in the Nutrition and Culinary Arts classes.  The garden will also be used for units in an array of other classes including the photosynthesis unit in freshman biology and possibly an outdoor painting unit in art class.  21st Century, an afterschool program, will be involved in maintaining and harvesting in the garden.  During the summer months, community members will be welcomed into the garden to help and benefit from its harvest.  The garden will be an asset to the community and school alike.  

Kayla Worker, the Nutrition and Culinary Arts teacher, has been very active in making this school garden dream a reality. The following is a personal note from Ms. Worker.

We are so excited to bring a school garden to Southeast High School.  In Springfield Public Schools #186, school gardens have been generating interest at the elementary level, but not at the high school level.  I never imagined when I began volunteering with genHkids at the community garden on 3rd and Canedy Street in Springfield, that I would be able to bring a garden back to my school.  The staff at genHkids couldn’t have been more enthusiastic when I told them I was interested in having one at Southeast. Since then, lots of excitement and planning has gone into the works to prepare to build and plant in the garden this spring.  The students and staff are so excited for the garden. We have purchased outdoor grills to do a grilling unit in the garden, and the school librarian won a grant for a Little Free Library that will be placed in the garden.  I have been bringing in all sorts of produce from the community garden so the students can start to see the sort of produce we will be producing.  Students actually ask me what vegetables I’m bringing tomorrow and make specific requests.  I love it!  Knowing where your food comes from and eating good, quality food is absolutely critical to bring to our children. An epidemic of obesity can be replaced with an epidemic of gardens.  Thank you, genHkids, for making my dream a reality. 

genHkids is a non profit organization located in Springfield, Illinois. The Coalition’s mission is to create a generation of healthy kids through education, empowerment, improved nourishment, and increased daily physical activity, thereby reducing the incidence of childhood obesity and its detrimental health effects.

Founded in 2008 by Dr. Kemia Sarraf, genHkids includes a fast growing coalition of volunteers, staff, and committed members of the medical community. With the help of Kayla Worker, The Spartan Garden will be genHkids’ first High School Farm to School program in Sangamon County. 

If you want to start your own school garden, make sure to visit the IFSN School Garden Resources page. If you want to start a genHkids program in your school, check out their website. Don’t forget to like the Illinois Farm to School Network on Facebook for more stories like this!

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