What Is Illinois Harvest of the Month?
Harvest of the Month is an easy program that helps child feeding sites and garden sites buy, grow, and serve more local food while teaching students about healthy eating, nutrition, and agriculture. Each month, registered sites can feature a different local item on their cafeteria menus or in tastings and snacks. This brings more money to local farmers and puts more nutritious food on student’s plates. Additionally, Harvest of the Month foods come with activities and resources for ways to increase education around that food. It’s fun and easy!
Click here to download our info sheet.
How to Participate
Feeding and garden sites register each year to participate in the program. Yearly registration, based on the school year calendar from September to August, will be open in May and will be live throughout the summer months. Registration closes on November 1st for the current year. Feeding and garden sites that wish to register for the program after registration closes should reach out to the Illinois Farm to School Network and we can work together to make it happen.
Ways to Bring Local to Your Feeding or Garden Program
Illinois Harvest of the Month provides a seasonal list of fruits and vegetables throughout the year. Each participant chooses one, or more, foods to feature every month. Participants then choose the activities and/or curriculum for each food they feature and create their own perfect celebration! There are many ways feeding and garden sites, whether private or as part of a group, can source monthly selections.
- Sourcing monthly selections through the DOD Fruit and Vegetable Program
- Sourcing regional/local selections through broadline or produce distributors
- Growing selections in a garden on site, or in a community garden space
- Buying from farmer’s markets or produce auctions
- Buying from regional produce aggregators, online from local food delivery sources, and on aggregation platforms
- Buying local at your community grocery stores and produce markets
- Becoming a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) member of a local, or regional farm
- Buying at a farmstand market
- Sourcing from a garden on-site, or off-site during the season, or developing a relationship with a community garden or farm
- Preserving the local harvest during the height of the season by freezing or dehydrating produce for use in the winter months
Where to Find Food
Visit this Farm to School Toolkit page on our network home website for resources on procuring local food, as well as a list of search engines and maps for locating food producers, CSAs, and farmers markets near you.
Illinois Harvest of the Month is a flexible program and you can choose what parts you will take on as you undertake the program! Participants new to the program can take on some parts in Year 1, and then more in coming years.
Sites that participate in the program will be required to:
- Participate in two evaluations (two surveys sent by the Illinois Farm to School Network that ask simple questions about participation and how much local food you’ve been able to source or grow)
- Participate in a scheduled phone call to go over program basics
- Display Illinois Harvest of the Month signs and materials in participating cafeterias and garden programs
Local Foods defined for Harvest of the Month:
What do registered participants get?
- A seasonal calendar with featured food options for each of the four seasons in Illinois
- Fun Facts and Nutrition Facts for over twenty foods!
- Drag and drop language for school and community communications
- Harvest of the Month icons for your menu grids, webpage, social media accounts, and take home communications
- Curricular activity for various education levels
- Booklist for teachers
- Recipes for food service, families at home, and recipe cards for local stores
- Monthly emails featuring seasonal foods with celebration tips, and ideas, featured recipes for foodservice and home, fun facts, and nutrition facts
- An Extension Kit to take your Harvest of the Month program into your community!
- Technical assistance for procurement, incorporation of foods into your meal program, garden program or culinary arts program, and general program assistance.
Our program handbook is now online. Click here to see the whole booklet as a PDF!
Looking for Funding?
Funding your Harvest of the Month program can help you to accomplish great things, even with just a small grant! From utilizing school garden produce to cafeteria local food taste tests, funding can be a key factor in bringing your program’s goals to fruition. Available grants vary in focus including re-establishing school kitchen facilities, improving menus, expanding student’s palates, adding salad bars, training for staff, farm to school program planning and program implantation, and connecting your program to community health efforts.
Are you considering writing a grant to fund your project? Illinois Farm to School Network can provide training on multiple farm to school and Harvest of the Month related topics for school food service and teaching staff. If you are interested in adding training or technical assistance to build or grow your program, contact us to discover how we can be added to your grant proposal!
Schools: want to learn the ins and outs of participating in the Illinois Harvest of the Month? All the details you need to know are laid out clearly here in our training video. Be sure to download the companion How To Guide as well. Here you will find every detail you can imagine that will help you as you implement this program.
For more training on how to buy local food and support your farm to school programs, check out the Mighty Mini Training Video series on the Illinois Farm to School Network website. All short videos with a ton of information for schools!
Participating School Districts in 2018-19
In the 2017/18 school year, Harvest of the Month served over 491,000 students at 1060 school sites in Illinois! Here is the current map of school districts who are participating in the 2018-2019 Illinois Harvest of the Month! Farmers, please look at this map to find schools who are buying locally grown produce, and distributors buying local produce (in the list at the top of the page).