Chicago Public Schools Celebrates Farm to School Month

October 20, 2015

How does this sound for lunch? Honey lemon hormone-free chicken, Amish-raised from Miller Farms Poultry; Asian-style broccoli slaw made with cabbage, carrots and broccoli from farms in Michigan; and seasoned corn from a small farm in Wisconsin.

Pretty darn good, right?

That meal—which sounds fit for any trendy restaurant—will be served to 400,000 Chicago Public School (CPS) students on Oct. 22 when the district celebrates Chicago Food Day as part of October’s Farm to School month.

Nationally, more farm-fresh produce is pouring into school cafeterias than ever before, according to a USDA report. Farm to school enriches the connection communities have with fresh, healthy food and local producers by changing food purchasing and education practices at schools. Farm to school provides all kids access to nutritious, high-quality local food that fuels learning and growth. Farm to school activities enhance classroom education through hands-on learning related to food, health, agriculture and nutrition.

But it’s not just one day a year that CPS serves locally grown foods in its cafeterias. Each monthly menu features a local frozen item once a week, fresh items twice a month and local chicken twice a month.

CPS has been a leader in the farm to school movement for years. During the 2014-2015 school year, CPS served almost 4 million pounds of local foods, including fresh apples, antibiotic-free chicken, frozen carrots, frozen peas and fresh potatoes. Over the past two school years, CPS has purchased more than $5.5 million in produce from regional farmers. In October 2015 alone, CPS served local foods from eight different small farms.

In 2014, CPS worked with Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based urban farm founded by former NBA player Will Allen, to serve 36,000 pounds of locally grown carrots. With those carrots, CPS received the largest fresh-food farm to school shipment in the U.S., according to the USDA. CPS has deepened its relationship with Growing Power. In February 2015, another 26,000 pounds of carrots were served to students. And, students have even gone up to Wisconsin to see the Growing Power farm firsthand.

This helps students understand what they’re eating. Leslie Fowler, the director of nutrition support services at CPS, says when kids know their food is coming from just down the road, it “makes them much more willing to try new things and engage in a new way.”

Getting to this point involved the work of many partners. Starting in 2013, HSC worked with CPS to form advisory groups of parents and other school stakeholders, which recommended increasing farm to school procurement. In fall 2013, CPS and its food service vendor Aramark began procuring local produce through FarmLogix, an innovative online platform that connects farmers to big buyers such as schools, started by tech guru Linda Mallers of Evanston, Ill.

At Healthy Schools Campaign, we believe that health and wellness should be incorporated into every aspect of the school experience, which is why supporting healthy school food has been a focus of our work over the last decade. Farm to school programs play an important role in our ongoing school food policy initiatives, food education, school garden development and parent engagement.