Ensuring that our communities have access to nutritious and culturally relevant foods is a challenge that has motivated young     4-H leaders to get more involved in growing, distributing, and sharing food across the state of Illinois. In 2022-23 alone, 250 Illinois 4-H youth leaders reached over 5,000 Illinois families with gardening and food access service projects. Through small and large-scale food production, coupled with effective advocacy and engagement in their communities' civic life, Illinois 4-H youth are rising to the occasion and helping to create resilient and inclusive food systems. 

"I learned that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. People are willing to help! They just need someone to organize the community around something that matters to them." 4-H Youth Leader, White County, IL


"This project has changed my perspective on starting a garden. I was able to research and help provide lessons to our young people about food insecurity and where their food comes from. It was also very rewarding seeing the look on the young people's faces when they realize they can be a key part of the growing process." 4-H Youth Leader, Montgomery Co. IL

Programs - Learn and grow together with your peers.

In order to participate, we'll get you connected with the 4-H youth development professionals in your area who can help you access opportunities for hands-on learning and community service through gardening. Gardening resources are provided under our signature programs page which can be found at the following link:

Projects - Self-paced learning with the goal of presenting at your county fair and the Illinois state fair. 

Challenge yourself to develop your capacity to grow your own food and share it with your community. Through your local county and the Illinois State Fair, you'll have the opportunity to demonstrate what you've learned and develop a plan for how to continue down the path to mastery in areas of Horticulture, Floriculture, Vegetable, Herbs and Fruits, and Plants and Soils. 

Get started and select your project here:


Knowing and appreciating where our food comes from is an essential part of what 4-H youth leaders learn when they get hands-on learning opportunities and explore their interests in agriscience. Our agriculture offerings are a reflection of what makes agriculture in Illinois such an important part of life for many communities; maintaining traditional practices while experimenting with cutting-edge approaches to producing food. 

Programs - Learn and grow together with your peers.

In order to participate, we'll get you connected with the 4-H youth development professionals in your area who can help you access opportunities for hands-on learning and community service through growing and teaching others about where their food comes from. 

Ag in the Classroom resources are provided under the  signature program which can be found at the following link:

Projects - Self-paced learning with the goal of presenting at your county fair and the Illinois state fair. 

Put your knowledge of plant science, soil science, and integrated pest management to the test and expand what is possible as you progress toward mastery in the areas of Crops (Soy, Corn & Small Grains) and Cover Crops. 

Get started and select your project here:

Digital Agriculture

Illinois 4-H is a collaborator with the AIFARMS (Artificial Intelligence for Future Agricultural Resilience, Management, and Sustainability) Institute based at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Through this institute, 4-H youth have opportunities to learn about emerging agricultural technologies and build their capacity for success in the agriscience sector. See their website for more information:

For 4-H members looking for more advanced learning opportunities in Digital Agriculture, contact Mark Becker, Illinois 4-H Food Systems Specialist at or explore some of the links below. 

Middle and High-School students around the state are gaining valuable STEM and agriscience skills utilizing FarmBot equipment. Learn more and find out how to get involved here:

Hands-on training opportunities are available for high-school students through our collaboration with the Center for Digital Agriculture. Learn more here:

Food Access

Your voice matters! You are an important resource for your community, not just someday in the future, but right now, today. Through strengthening your communication, decision-making, goal-setting, and leadership skills you will become a strong advocate for positive change. With funding support from the Brandt Foundation, Illinois Farm Bureau, Compeer Financial, and the Illinois 4-H Foundation, we are continually expanding our support for youth-led food security projects. efforts across the state. 

Food Insecurity Affects Many of Us

In the past two decades, food insecurity rates in Illinois have been falling consistently, thanks in large part to consistent work on the part of leaders dedicated to guaranteeing food access for all. It took ten years for food insecurity rates to fall to levels similar to those that existed before the 2008 great recession. With the impact which the COVID-19 pandemic has had on families and communities, those gains are expected to disappear in under one year.

According to the USDA in 2022, 33.8 million people live in the United States live in food insecure households, 5 million of them being children. What's more, 12.2% of households in large urban/metropolitan areas are experiencing food insecurity, while 9 out of 10 counties in the United States with the highest rates of food insecurity are rural counties. 

According to the advocacy group Feeding Illinois, an estimated additional 17.1 million are likely to experience food insecurity, many for the first time. In Illinois, we have seen 1,921,910 individuals facing food insecurity, an increase of 638,360 from pre-pandemic levels. This means an increase in the food security rate in Illinois, from 10.1% of the population to 15.1%. These numbers are expected to be worse for children and youth, with an estimated 1 in 4 children experiencing food insecurity, compared to 1 in 7 pre-pandemic. Illinois is not alone; nationally, we have seen a 46% increase in those experiencing food insecurity.

Food Insecurity Doesn’t Look The Same For Everyone

According to the advocacy group Feeding America, food insecurity is defined as “a lack of consistent access to enough food for every person in a household to live an active, healthy life. This can be a temporary situation for a household or can last a long time. Food insecurity is one way we can measure how many people cannot afford food.”  There are many causes of food insecurity, but they are all connected to a person’s ability to meet their basic needs. Unexpected bills, an unforeseen accident, a change in employment status, unreliable transportation, even neighborhood housing and zoning policies. All of these things can force you into making difficult decisions, like choosing between paying bills or buying food.

We also know that you can’t always tell if someone is food insecure at first glance. Particularly for young people, there is a stigma associated with being in a situation where you need food assistance. Access to food banks, food pantries, school meals, SNAP benefits, and nutrition education are all important pieces of the puzzle. Illinois 4-H is in every county in Illinois, which means we also have the opportunity to be a part of the solution for every community throughout the state.

Garden produce for pantry

4-H Food Advocacy Grant Application

Do you have an idea to increase food security where you live? Then this is the opportunity for you. Working with your local 4-H office, you can receive financial support in the form of grants to invest in the next generation of food access leaders. Funds are made available with the support of the Illinois 4-H Foundation, The Brandt Foundation, and Compeer Financial.

Past Funded Projects Include: 

  • Community mini pantry
  • Weekend backpack program
  • School food distributions
  • Nutrition education classes
  • Community gardens
  • Support for local food pantries

mission garden boxes

4-H Food Advocacy Grant Report 2022-23

See what is possible when adults work alongside youth leaders to create positive change in our communities. A big shout out to all the 4-H youth who applied for and were awarded a grant this year. Catch some inspiration from the projects 4-H has supported in the past.

"It was the right thing to do to help with this project, it made me feel good knowing people would have the food they need. I really enjoyed helping other kids in my county and being a part of something bigger than myself." 4-H Youth Leader, Shelby Co. IL

Food Action Academy Logo

4-H Food Action Academy

A comprehensive 8-part curriculum to strengthen youth leadership skills through the design and implementation of service learning projects to create greater food access in their neighborhoods and communities. A collaborative project between Illinois 4-H, SNAP-Ed, and the Farm to School Network, this curriculum assists youth in evaluating the connection between food access and community health while providing them the resources they need to take effective action to create positive change.


Food Justice

Dr. Bobby Smith II, a professor in the African-American Studies Department at the U of I recorded an interview with Sophia Holmes, a 4-H Alumni on the topic of Food Justice.

Food Security

Dr. Craig Gundersen, an ACES Distinguished Professor and food insecurity researcher at the U of I spoke with Illinois 4-H about alleviating food insecurity in Illinois.