Farmers Feeding Families partners with Champaign Unit 4 Schools

Champaign Unit 4 School District has become the latest partner in the United Way of Champaign County’s Farmers Feeding Families program. Monday night (May 11, 2015), the Unit 4 Board of Education approved a 1-year lease agreement with United Way that allows the non-profit to farm the land and use the proceeds from the crop sale to benefit hungry families in Champaign County.

The Farmers Feeding Families program aims to provide additional funding for existing food programs to ensure all community members have access to the healthy, nutritious food. Programs that benefit from Farmers Feeding Families include the Eastern Illinois Food Bank Food Fund and Backpack Buddies program, Greater Community AIDS Project: Harvest to Home Food Pantry, Family Service of Champaign County’s Meals on Wheels, Peacemeal Senior Nutrition Program, and Prosperity Gardens.

“In a county known for feeding the world, it’s unacceptable to have hungry children and families,” said Sue Grey, President and CEO of United Way of Champaign County. “We know that hunger distracts children at school, causing them to act out, do poorly on assignments and fall behind. Hunger forces our senior citizens to choose between keeping the lights on in their home or buying groceries. That’s why Farmers Feeding Families exists. The proceeds from this patch of farmland will go a long way towards building a stronger community.”

According to United Way, one in six people in Champaign County struggle with hunger. Among children, that number is 1 in 5. More than 50 percent of Unit 4 students are eligible to receive free or reduced lunch as part of the National School Lunch Program.

“Hunger among school-aged children is an issue we are faced with daily,” said Superintendent Dr. Judy Wiegand. “We work to provide healthy meals and education on nutrition to our students, but we understand that issues of hunger expand beyond the school setting for our families. While originally purchased for a different purpose, we are excited this parcel of land has brought us the opportunity to work with United Way in tackling the issue of hunger in our community.”

The United Way will farm on the southern 40 acres of farmland owned by the school district on Interstate Drive. The northern 40 acres will continue to be farmed by the previous tenant. United Way is able to raise funds by working with farmer Perry “Pete” Sage, of Sage Farms in Thomasboro. Sage worked with United Way to spearhead the program last fall, donating his time and equipment. Sage also works with the agricultural community to procure donations of all the necessary inputs, including seed, fertilizer, and insurance.

As part of the agreement, Unit 4 retains the right to utilize up to 10 acres for educational purposes. This school year, the District formed an Agriculture Committee comprised of school district representatives, teachers, and agriculture industry professionals with the goal of exploring possible course offerings the future.