Shawna Digging Front GardenThe Illinois Farm to School Network team here at SGA is working to make the March 3 Farm to School Day and Farmhouse Fete an educational feast—for the brain and the stomach.

What do they have in store?

In the morning, there will be trainings and recipe demos for school food service staffers about incorporating Illinois Harvest of the Month, a program that provides food education for students and local fresh fruits and veggies on the lunch tray.

Afternoon activities for teachers and families include vegetable garden planning and a planting session with local master gardeners and healthy eating tips from nutrition educators from University of Illinois Extension.

Then in the evening, everyone can chow down on local food and drinks while listening to keynote speaker Shawna Coronado, a wellness lifestyle advocate, gardener and author. This all will take place at the Northern Illinois Food Bank in Geneva.

“We’re delighted to have Shawna on the program,” says Diane Chapeta, coordinator for the Illinois Farm to School Network at SGA. “She will share her personal story of how she solved her health issues by planting and utilizing fresh garden veggies from her own yard.”

Coronado also will talk about gardening in general, the benefits of community gardening as well as share her revelations and discoveries as she defied standard treatments for spinal osteoarthritis.

She threw herself into gardening about a decade ago after walking off a job that was literally stressing her out and making her sick. At first she wasn’t sure what to do. Her mother suggested she “do something with gardening.”

So she took that advice and hasn’t looked back. Not only did gardening lead her to a whole new career, she came to see it as a way “to inspire people to do social good,” she says, talking from her home in Warrenville, where she’s immersed in writing her sixth book.

Her fifth book, “101 Organic Gardening Hacks,” had just come out a few days ago, and already she was back at her writing desk working on the next one, due out at the end of this year. It’s not unusual for her to publish two books in one year, as she did in 2014.

Coronado spends most of her energy on writing books and teaching people about wellness, drawing directly on experiences from her own life. Today she is happy, vibrant and full of energy. But back when she was working long, crazy hours as a marketing rep under a boss who wanted her to put in even more, she was taking more than a dozen prescription medications. Many were for severe allergies made worse by the stress.

Gardening led her to a adopting a healthier diet, which increased her energy, got her off all the medications, and “my high blood pressure went away,” she says. “Learning how to garden is not that difficult. It truly helps yourself and community. Gardening is so much more than gardening.”

—Cassandra West