School cafeterias around Illinois are using more locally grown fruits and vegetables, while teaching children a thing or two about the benefits of healthy eating.
The USDA Farm to School Grant Program increases access to local foods in schools.
Last fiscal year a $25,000 grant helped SIU-Carbondale partner with the Illinois Farmers Market Association, University of Illinois Extension, and The Illinois State Board of Education to host regional farm to school Conferences in Carbondale, Springfield, and Chicago.
Wes King with 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, seeing where it comes from that makes kids more excited and more willing to make that leap into trying some new healthier foods."
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 have opportunities to have that healthy, fresh vegetables be from farms nearby, which means more money in the pockets of farms but 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 of 2015 is under discussion in Congress. It would increase funding to include preschools, summer food service program sites and after school programs. It also would improve program participation from veterans and beginning farmers and ranchers.