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Farm to School Win-Win in Illinois

PHOTO: Farm to school programs in Illinois and around the country are bringing fresh, locally grown food to children while putting more money in the pockets of farmers. Photo courtesy of the USDA.
PHOTO: Farm to school programs in Illinois and around the country are bringing fresh, locally grown food to children while putting more money in the pockets of farmers. Photo courtesy of the USDA.
July 6, 2015

CHICAGO – School cafeterias around Illinois are using more locally-sourced fruits and vegetables, while teaching children about the benefits of healthy eating.

The Chicago Public Schools system is among a number of districts in the state incorporating food from school gardens and local farms into cafeteria menus, while the New Berlin School District provides educational programs for children and their families about healthy eating and local food.

Wes King, executive director of the Illinois Stewardship Alliance, says these opportunities help to put children in the "driver's seat" of a healthier diet.

"There's just something to being involved in the process," he says. "Seeing where food comes from makes kids more excited and more willing to make that leap into trying some new, healthier foods."

King adds that federal policy is key to ensuring healthy options are available for all Illinois school children. The Farm to School Act of 2015, introduced this year as part of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act, would expand these Farm to School programs.

King says Farm to School programs are a "win-win" because children access fresh food – and area agriculture gets a boost.

"The more likely we are to have healthy, fresh vegetables come from nearby farms, means more money in the pockets of farms," he says. "But it also means more money in those communities. So it really can have a much larger impact by keeping those dollars locally."

The Farm to School Act would increase funding to include preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs. It would also improve program participation from veterans and beginning farmers and ranchers.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IL