In September, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner signed into a law a bill that will allow Illinois students to eat what’s grown in their school gardens as part of the school meal program starting in June 2018.
Chicago students have led the way in this important work. Chicago Public Schools (CPS) first piloted the Eat What You Grow food safety and nutrition education program in eight schools in 2013 with the help of a USDA Farm to School grant. Not only does the program allow students to eat fresh fruits and vegetables grown right on their own campus, it also teaches students lessons about nutrition and food production in a way that only hands-on learning can.
James Wadsworth Elementary School is one of 150 CPS schools that’s now Eat What You Grow certified, and the district is planning to certify an additional 50 Eat What You Grow schools every year so that all schools with a garden can participate.
Just a few years ago, the schoolyard at Wadsworth had an unusable basketball court and a decrepit playground. After a Space to Grow renovation, the schoolyard has plenty of space for students to play, read and grow their own food. Space to Grow is an innovative partnership led by Healthy Schools Campaign and Openlands, using a unique model that brings together capital funds and leadership from the Chicago Department of Water Management, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and Chicago Public Schools. Space to Grow transforms Chicago schoolyards into beautiful and functional spaces to play, learn, garden and enjoy being outside.
In early summer, just before school let out for the summer, Wadsworth’s garden was bursting with radishes, lettuces and wheat. After harvesting the lettuce, the food service staff cleaned and prepared it, added a simple dressing featuring orange juice and served the delicious salad to students. They couldn’t get enough!
The effect of the program and the garden extends beyond just a tasty treat. Wadsworth also has an engaged garden club where students are responsible for planting, tending and harvesting the garden. Teachers incorporate the garden into their lessons plans, including a science experiment using different colored lights to grow plants and a health lessons about butterfly diets featuring lettuce from the garden. The Eat What You Grow program is a critical way for schools to connect the classroom, the dining center and the school garden.
We’re excited that more students in Illinois will get to take advantage of the many benefits that come from growing and eating your own food.