Lake Michigan School Food System Innovation Hub Launches in Illinois to Fuel Change for Our Region’s School Food System

Application opens on February 1; interested grant applicants can now register for launch event

[Oak Park, Illinois], Jan. 11, 2024 — Lake Michigan School Food System Innovation Hub announced today that it will open funding opportunities for collaborations of local food system leaders who want to ensure that school meals better reflect our region’s harvests and cultural diversity, particularly as nearly one million kids in Illinois eat school lunch every day. Grant applications open on Feb. 1, 2024. A few days earlier, on Jan. 24, the Hub will host a kick-off introductory webinar.       

Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and convened by the Illinois Public Health Institute (IPHI), this new initiative offers grants up to $250,000 to build pathways for local and nutritious food to reach more schools across Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana — especially in areas that don’t have equitable access to resources. The Innovation Hub seeks applicants who have ideas to strengthen our local school food system and want to join collaborative teams to bring those ideas to life. 

We’re looking forward to see people across Illinois — from farmers and food suppliers to food service directors and community-based program leaders — come together to help the food that kids eat at school be more local, more nourishing and more loved,” said Gary Cuneen, Executive Director of Seven Generations Ahead, a leading member of the Innovation Hub. “The grants will give us the opportunity to address historical inequities in our school food system and better serve our communities.”  

Grants from $10,000 to $250,000 are available to teams that may include farmers, food suppliers, food service directors, community-based program leaders and more. The Innovation Hub will invest in community-driven ideas of all sizes and scopes — from hyper-local projects to multistate collaborations — as long as projects direct more resources to students, schools and local economies. The Innovation Hub will prioritize investments in communities that have experienced racism and discrimination and/or communities that have been underserved. This includes Black or African American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, Hispanic or Latine, Asian or Pacific Islander, or other people of color; people who live in rural areas; and people with limited incomes. More information about eligible applicants can be found at 

“I brought my experience as a small farmer to the creation of the Innovation Hub applications, and I’m thrilled to see this initiative come to life,” said Angie Kuehl, Pomona, IL. “It is critical for students that we celebrate our cultures at home and at school, and I believe the community will come together with new, innovative ideas to provide more comfort and nourishment to school meals. We look forward to strengthening old relationships and building new ones as funding becomes available to address racism, discrimination and historically underserved communities.” 

“IPHI is thrilled to have the opportunity to work with partners in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Wisconsin to fund innovative school meal projects across the region,” said Elissa Bassler, CEO of the IPHI. “Communities are the best designers of innovative projects that will help students get the nourishing meals they need to thrive. We can’t wait to see — and support — innovations that will transform the school food system and address historical inequities in ways that better serve Midwest communities.”

The Innovation Hub is hosting a kick-off introductory webinar to provide interested participants with an overview of the grant opportunity and website, and it will get applicants connected to grant application support. The webinar will be held on Jan. 24, 2024, at 10 a.m. CST / 11 a.m. EST. Registration is now open at this link (in English) or this link (in Spanish). Additionally, a representative from Seven Generations Ahead is available to help guide prospective grantees from idea to application submission.  

“Schools meals are vital to the health and well-being of our nation’s children, providing critical nutrition to tens of millions of students every school day,” said Cindy Long, administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. “The Innovation Hub is a prime example of USDA’s deep commitment to ensuring schools have all the support and tools they need to continue to rise to that task. We are excited to fund innovative ideas that will strengthen the local food supply chain and help ensure students throughout the Midwest have better access to nutritious and appealing foods.”

For more information, contact Diane Chapeta, Seven Generations Ahead at, or Colleen Feeny, Seven Generations Ahead, at You can also visit Register for the introductory webinar at this link (in English) or this link (in Spanish).


Lake Michigan School Food System Innovation Hub nurtures community-driven collaborations that reimagine students’ meals. By working together, we’re building pathways for local, nutritious and culturally relevant food to reach more schools across Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Indiana — especially in areas that don’t have equitable access to resources. We offer funding, training and other help to collectives of schools, school districts, organizations, farmers, producers, suppliers and distributors who are transforming our school food system to better serve our communities. We are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and convened by the Illinois Public Health Institute. Organizations leading the initiative include Seven Generations Ahead (Illinois), Michigan State University’s Center for Regional Food Systems (Michigan), NWI Food Council (Indiana), Kids Forward (Wisconsin), healthTIDE (Wisconsin), National Farm to School Network, Chicago Food Policy Action Council and Action for Healthy Kids.