Where better to connect local farms to schools that want to source local food than at the Illinois Farm Bureau’s Everything Local Conference? It took place January 17th – 19th this year in Springfield, and featured keynote speaker Chef Rick Bayless. 

But Illinois Farm to School Network’s program manager, Diane Chapeta, wasn’t there for the celebrity sightings. She was holding training sessions for both farmers and K-12 food buyers about the local food procurement process for schools. This was the first time school buyers were brought into a farmer conference, and it’s safe to say it was a success. 

There were approximately 24 attendees for the school buyer training, from 17 sites and 12 counties across Illinois. Chapeta’s training focused on providing participants with information and best practices to source local foods and communicate directly with farmers, processors, and local food hubs. Attendees also had the opportunity to develop a local food buyer profile during the training session, which will be included in the 2024 Local Food Purchasing Guide created by The Land Connection

Some other elements of this training included: 

  • – Gaining an understanding of seasonal, Illinois grown products and when they are available. 
  • – Discovering ways to menu Illinois foods year round.
  • – Taking away a resource library of food-based education and fun activities for the classroom, the cafeteria and at home.

After the classroom training, attendees were able to walk through the farmer/rancher/processor vendor hall and attend The Land Connection’s meet and greet event with Illinois producers. Chapeta also held a training session for farmers who want to plug into farm to school opportunities so that folks on both sides of farm to school were able to learn best practices. 

This year marked the first time K-12 buyers were at the conference and able to connect with farmers directly. And this is what truly made the farm to school sessions a success. She said one buyer told her they were able to connect with three different farms to set up conversations. Another buyer was excited to meet a honey producer in their area. 

And apparently the feeling was mutual. An Illinois Farm Bureau staff member told Chapeta that the honey producer said having school buyers at the conference was the highlight of his experience. 

For both the buyers and the farmers, local food sourcing is truly an exciting opportunity. Chapeta will continue throughout the year to offer more trainings and more chances for buyers and farmers to build relationships, just like the honey producer and his potential new customers. 

“That honey farm got swarmed,” she says.