Illinois School Garden Program Grows

Dale Kehr, Meemic Member since 2017

My job with the University of Illinois Extension Office is providing educational resources in nutrition, health and environmental matters to low-income schools. I do smart lunchroom assessments, trying to help schools serve healthier foods. I do pantry assessments, too, again with the healthier message. Anything related to nutrition and wellness. I cover both Lake and McHenry counties here in Illinois. It’s a lot of driving, but I’m glad I’m able to reach so many schools. 
I’ve worked with the Meemic Foundation on several projects since first hearing about them in June of 2014. Lately, I’ve been conducting statewide school garden workshops for teachers. I show them how to start gardens at their schools and get the kids going on them. It’s information from the university that’s well researched and based in science: how to plant the seeds, how much water and how to do it without chemicals.
Last year, we had four teachers attend the workshop. I’m really excited for this year, because we’ll have 15 teachers from about seven different schools coming for nine sessions! I know that networking made all the difference. Three who came last year are coming back and bringing friends. It’s so rewarding to see this kind of thing spreading through the schools!
When the workshop is over, the Meemic Foundation will provide up to 20 participants with the opportunity to receive a $100 grant towards their school garden.  This year, a Meemic agent gave me $195 so I could provide refreshments at the workshops. Last year, I had to pay for it out of my own pocket.
The teachers come back to their schools and start their own gardening programs. High school students learn to cook, garden and create media. They’re learning more than gardening; it’s science, it’s math, and it’s writing, too. But there’s nothing like kids getting their hands in the soil. And it’s nice to see them take fresh produce home to their families – produce they grew themselves. The benefits are far reaching. You’re teaching them and feeding them at the same time. If they’re eating healthier, they’re able to perform better at school and work.
I first heard about Meemic when someone from the company came and did a presentation to let the teachers know they could apply for grants. I knew the company was started by teachers who saw a need that wasn’t being met, and you can see it in the benefits that are more inclusive of the profession.
I worked with Meemic on these grant programs and knew they supported schools, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they could be my insurance company. Then one day I met an agent and told her my husband and I were looking for new insurance. It turned out we were eligible for Meemic because of my job with the university and because my husband is an official for high school football and basketball. We used to have Allstate, and I never was able to talk to my agent in the whole 15 years we had them. My agent got back to me immediately, and my insurance went down $2,000 every six months.
My favorite moment working with Meemic happened when three agents came to our end-of-year celebration for a garden. In the crowd was a regional director, a county director and a state senator and congressman. I was so proud! That was my crowning glory!

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