It’s that time of year again. The air is getting cooler, the trees are just beginning to show patches of red, yellow, and orange, and the apples are crisp and juicy. With the magic of fall also comes the joy of the Illinois Great Apple Crunch! The Great Apple Crunch is a celebration of fresh local apples that takes place on the second Thursday of October, during National Farm to School Month. The Illinois Crunch is part of the larger, regional Great Lakes Great Apple Crunch. As many as 1.3 million people across the region have taken part in this event in the past.
Organizations of almost any kind, including K-12 schools, early childhood centers, businesses, and this year, even individuals and families, can take part. The event is particularly fun for the little ones, as Vicki Gregor will tell you. Gregor is the Program Director at The Day Nursery in Oak Park, and the early childhood site has participated in the Great Apple Crunch for several years. According to Gregor, it’s always a fun-filled and delicious day.
“It’s a fun experience, being able to pull together, where everyone in the school is participating in the same event, but having a different experience,” she says. “Everyone is able to go home and talk about different experiences they had with it.”
Apple Crunch looked a little different for The Day Nursery in 2020, but in 2019 it wasn’t just an all school event, but a family affair. The teachers set up a voting station, and the kids got to sample several different kinds of local apples and vote for their favorites. Parents were able to follow along at home through social and watch real time results on which apple was crowned the champion. They even weighed in with their own comments and opinions, though the kids picked the winner.
“It was hotly contested,” she said. The kids put their choices in a ballot box, and even got an “I Voted” sticker. “We made it really official.”
The school’s cook also incorporated apples into every meal that was served that day. According to Gregor, one thing the kids enjoy most about the Great Apple Crunch is learning just how many kinds of apple there are. Suddenly a lunchtime staple goes from familiar to exciting.
“They like to get to sample, because, of course, not all apples are the same,” says Gregor.
In addition to the tasting contest and enjoying a variety of apple foods throughout the day, The Day Nursery has also incorporated apples into their nutrition curriculum for the month of October. The kids round out their Apple Crunch experience learning that one of their favorite fruits is also a healthy treat.
This year, The Day Nursery hopes to celebrate by working with a local bakery to have an apple pie raffle fundraiser for the school, creating a cookbook of family apple recipes, and collecting apples to donate to the local food bank. All this would be in addition, of course, to the popular tasting contest.
If you want to get your school or organization in on the fun, there’s still time to register for this year’s Great Apple Crunch. Support local agriculture, healthy food, and celebrate the delicious bounty of apple season!