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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.



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!

Illinois Farm to School Program receives $85,000 USDA Grant


Seven Generations Ahead (SGA), the convening organization for the Illinois Farm to School Network, has been selected to receive a competitive USDA Farm to School Grant. The funds will be used to create a robust farm to school program in Kane Country, in partnership with the Kane County Health Department. Alongside the development of the Kane County Food Hub, this project will increase local food distribution, access and education within Aurora area schools.

Lydia Mills, Farm to School Program Coordinator at SGA, knows from experience that when students take part in farm to school programs, they are more willing to try new, healthy foods. “This grant will enable us to work closely with local farmers and create an easy path for their nutritious food to end up on student’s plates,” she says. “We will also bring our programs into Aurora schools to teach students about food and how it grows, so they are excited to try it!”

The USDA is a major advocate for these types of programs. “Farm to school programs work—for schools, for producers, and for communities,” notes 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.”

There have been $4.8 million in grant funds from the USDA distributed this year for 74 projects spanning 39 states. Seven Generations Ahead is the only 2016 grantee in Illinois. Across the Midwest, many school districts received implementation grants to increase their farm to school efforts. You can find the list of newly funded projects at the USDA website.

The latest round of USDA Farm to School Grants brings investment since the program’s inception in fiscal year 2013 to $19.9 million. Projects have been funded in all 50 states, DC, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This grant program started with the bipartisan passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The renewal of this law, also known as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, is still being debated in Congress, and a Farm to School Act marker bill seeks to increase farm to school funding to further develop these types of programs.

Garden Towers Invade Kane County

This May, Seven Generations Ahead partnered with the Kane County Health Department’s Fit For Kids Initiative to give out Tower Gardens at five Kane County public schools. What exactly is a Tower Garden? It is an innovative, portable, vertical garden that grows food using aeroponic technology, which is similar to hydroponics but harnesses the air in a way that is unique to its vertical structure. These towers have been placed in five classrooms across Kane County, and we will share their progress as the students learn how to grow delicious, fresh food indoors. Each tower came with a full lighting system so that teachers can grow food throughout the school year.

Where are the Kane County Tower Gardens?
• Rotolo Middle School, Batavia
• STEM Middle School, Aurora
• Hermes Elementary School, Aurora
• Kaneland John Stewart Elementary School, Elburn
• deLacey Family Education Center (Pre-K), Carpentersville

These Tower Gardens have been used in classrooms across the county to enhance student learning about the intersections of food, science and technology. Thanks to the Kane County Health Department Fit For Kids Initiative for bringing Tower Gardens to classrooms across Kane County! Here are some photos of our teachers putting their towers together.towergardens2 towergardens1