By Bria Jerome
Located in the suburb of Oak Park, Seven Generations Ahead works quietly and consistently to implement environmental goals throughout Cook County and the state of Illinois. SGA workers and interns divide their work into several different categories, one of which is Farm to School. Through the tireless work of the very small staff and the excitement of community members, SGA has made and will make huge strides toward increasing environmental awareness and education.
The Farm to School program run by SGA seeks to bring students closer to the food they eat everyday. Whether this be in a physical sense of promotion of local vendors to school cafeterias, a metaphorical sense of implementing organic produce education, or a spiritual sense of promoting community gardens on school grounds; Farm to School is a great way to show kids a taste of healthy and sustainable living.
My main project this semester to help with the Farm to School program is to create an interactive map that includes as many of the school gardens within the state of Illinois as possible. Although this is an exhausting and never-ending effort, this knowledge can help serve as a reference for the 12.8 million residents of Illinois as well as a motivational push for other schools to get on board. Most importantly, it is incredibly uplifting for me, as selfish as that may be, to see all of the schools and organizations working to ensure that the next generation is well informed and values the world that we all share.
Currently, there are a lot of great foundations working within the Chicagoland and outlying region to make school gardens less costly and less labor intensive in their startup and first growing season. One of these programs, Gardeneers, has served over 200 Chicago Public Schools and continues to expand their program to lower-income areas. [Editor’s note: recent SUST graduate Maria Cancilla, BA ’18, was just hired this winter by Gardeneers as an Americorps worker.]
Another program funded by Whole Foods, Whole Kids Foundation, has provided funding to hundreds of schools around Illinois to start up a garden as well as information regarding produce-growing and sustainable farming initiatives. Other programs such as Openlands and Big Green also provide funding for hundreds of schools around the country, and these are only a few of the dozens of awesome grant programs schools can apply for to start or develop their gardens. Through the information provided by these and many other great foundations, I have been able to compile a list of over 500 school gardens within the state of Illinois and counting.
School Garden Mapping Project
Through the use of powerful ArcGIS software, I have been able to not only find and pinpoint the locations of gardens in Illinois (shown to the right in multi-colored dots), I can also provide viewers of the map with information regarding enrollment, garden attributes, produce grown, and many other important features to give viewers a taste of what the garden looks like and hopefully get them excited about participating (example of what this looks like is shown below).
The ArcGIS software also includes a program to allow for viewers to input their own information into the map to add new gardens and refresh outdated data so that the map will continue to stay up-to-date and lively even long after it has been uploaded to the Illinois Farm to School website. An example of this GeoForm is shown below, with questions about the structures in place within the garden, compost systems, and many more juicy details about all the great things kids are learning about in their school gardens.
We hope to share this page with as many school contacts as possible through the Seven Generations Ahead partnerships with CPS and other districts participating in Farm to School activities. The widespread nature of this project involves coordination and persistent contact with schools and communities to ensure that the school gardens are being properly cared for and that students are receiving the benefits of the program. We are all excited at SGA to see where the project goes and how community members will respond to the rollout, which will hopefully be taking place soon!
Bria Jerome is a senior in Roosevelt University’s College of Arts and Sciences, where she is double-majoring in Sustainability Studies and Political Science. Bria is reporting this spring 2019 semester on her sustainability internship at Seven Generations Ahead in Oak Park, IL.