Learn

If you are passionate about growing food and feeding communities, then there are opportunities to learn and do more in Lake County—from youth programs all the way to establishing a farm business. The County’s unique program offerings:

  • Allow children to dig into gardening and learn about where their food comes from
  • Provide paid summer job opportunities for teens
  • Include academic and training programs for students
  • Provide assistance for beginning farmers as they launch a new business

Gardening Programs

Many schools in Lake County, from pre-schools to high schools, have school garden programs run by dedicated teachers or staff. School gardens are a great way to expose children to the joy and wonder of growing food at an early age. Volunteering with your child at their school’s garden (especially during the summer when teachers often need help maintaining it), can nurture an appreciation for the importance of eating healthy, fresh food.

Many park districts also have gardening programs that encourage families to garden together. For example, the Waukegan Park District’s Children’s Garden Program teaches children how to grow their own food and includes nutrition education as well. Check with your local park district to see if there is an educational garden program near you.

Youth Development Programs

Lake County has some exceptional agriculture-based youth development programs for tweens and teens who enjoy being outside in the garden and want to learn more. These programs help to foster the next generation of local food advocates:
  • Roberti Community House’s Green Youth Farm provides middle-school age youth with the opportunity to learn about sustainable agricultural practices, healthy food preparation, and the value of good eating habits and exercise. The JGYF offers a daily hands-on gardening experience, cooking, art and yoga classes as well as various educational field trips. Team building and group activities are successfully integrated with individual goals so that youth gain self-confidence and interpersonal skills.
  • The Liberty Prairie Foundation’s Prairie Farm Corps Program, at the Prairie Crossing Farm in Grayslake, immerses youth in sustainable agriculture, provides mentoring, and reflects on the collaboration between land and living systems. Participants gain job skills applicable to any career, the capability to grow and cook fresh vegetables, and a hands-on introduction to sustainable agriculture in this paid experiential learning opportunity.
  • Windy City Harvest’s Green Youth Farm in North Chicago provides high school students with a paid work experience, entrepreneurial and job skills training, guidance by adult mentors, and exposure to healthy foods and cooking, while providing the local food desert community with organically grown produce for free or at a reduced-cost. The program is made possible through a partnership between the Preservation Foundation of the Lake County Forest Preserves and Chicago Botanic Garden.

Academic and Research-based Programs

Lake County also has adult learning opportunities both for those who want explore academia to pursue employment in this field, or for those who want to continue their gardening education to share their knowledge with the community.

The College of Lake County’s Sustainable Agriculture Degree and Certificate Programs provides opportunities for students who want to learn how to grow their own food or pursue employment options in the field. These students receive a hands-on, comprehensive education about sustainable agriculture practices. Graduates often go on to find employment as farm and ranch managers, agricultural technicians, first-line supervisors of agricultural crop and horticultural workers, and more.

The University of Illinois Extension’s Master Gardeners Program is designed for gardeners interested in sharing their knowledge. Master Gardeners share unbiased, reliable, research-based information with home landscapers, students and gardeners. Participants also complete more than 60 hours of training on botany, vegetables, lawn care, tree and small fruits, diseases, insects, soils, composting, pesticide safety, fertilizers, pruning, trees, and flowers.

Entrepreneurship

There are resources in the region designed for those interested in starting their own farm business that provide invaluable classroom instruction, hands-on field experience, access to experienced mentor farmers, and the opportunity to launch a new farm business.

The Liberty Prairie Foundation’s Farm Business Development Center (FBDC) allows aspiring farmers to build their farming business from the ground up in a supportive environment. The Foundation provides beginning farmers an incubator setting with affordable access to certified organic land near the Chicago-area customer base, basic resources and infrastructure, and access to experienced mentor farmers.

Angelic Organics Learning Center’s Farmer Training Initiative (AOLC) supports and serves prospective, beginning, and experienced farmers through training in business planning, financial management, and regenerative agricultural practices. AOLC is committed to working with those who wish to become sustainable and organic farmers or growers for the local food system.

Routes to Farm is a collaboration of farmer alliances in the greater Chicago foodshed dedicated to training the emerging generation of local and sustainable farmers. The group makes resources available to farmers who are launching or growing their farm business for the local and sustainable food and farm economy.

Other Resources

There are also resources for people interested in learning about the local food movement more broadly.

Good Food on Every Table - A Family Farmed website that provides interesting features on local food related issues and organizations around the Chicagoland region. Sign up for their newsletter to stay in touch.

Liberty Prairie Foundation’s e-newsletter - A newsletter that highlights local food and farm initiatives in Lake County and the greater region.

Freemont Township Community Garden – A community garden in Mundelein that serves as an outdoor classroom for all ages to learn about sustainability and how food grows. Check their Facebook page to see what’s happening in the garden.