Creating Local Food Sustainability in Lake County

Students from the New Tech High at Zion-Benton East High School distribute food to 200 residents from the Northern Illinois Food Bank’s mobile pantry during The Lake County Community Foundation’s annual bus tour.

Photo by Carol Levin

"In Illinois, more than 95 percent of the food we consume comes from outside our state,” says Sylvia Zaldivar-Sykes, executive director of the Lake County Community Foundation (LCCF). “In Lake County, we have land we can use to farm. We are connecting those with expertise in land acquisition and farming to train people to cultivate the land and grow healthy food for families who live and work in our county.”

Lake County encompasses 444 square miles and there is no shortage of need among local residents. Addressing issues that include housing, poverty, workforce development and access to local and healthy food, LCCF strives to make meaningful connections that will reap effective rewards. It recently approved a grant to help bring fresh vegetables to the underserved in local communities, including Waukegan, North Chicago and Round Lake.

“We are working with Conserve Lake County to make this farming happen,” Zaldivar-Sykes explains. “We are reaching out to people in the community to provide them the resources and tools to create their own local food projects—whether those spaces are at their places of faith or a community garden. As a result, we create a workforce, strengthen economic development and provide healthy food, as well as provide our community with nutrition and wellness information.”

Started in 2003, the LCCF is a nonprofit organization that operates as an affiliate of the Chicago Community Trust. It connects donors with community needs by providing grants to organizations working to improve the lives of the most vulnerable residents of Lake County and make positive, systemic change at the grassroots level.

To further address the issue of food deserts (communities which have little or no access to fresh food) in low-income areas of Lake County, Zaldivar-Sykes is connecting with minority-owned groceries with access to state funds to encourage them to open grocery stores in underserved communities. She says Illinois state money from the Fresh Food Fund can be used to make that hope a reality. The fund was established in 2009 to incentivize and facilitate the creation of grocery stores in urban communities statewide, to provide greater access to fresh produce.

“No one can solve these huge social challenges on their own,” she admits. “But a paradigm shift has to happen so that we can work collectively and leverage our resources in order to have a greater impact on our community. We vcould keep making small grants to very worthy organizations and never move the needle on a systemic level. The Foundation has shifted its own way of making investments, looking for opportunities for us to work in partnership with others to realize not only greater change, but create more sustainable and long-term solutions.”

For more information:
The Lake County Community Foundation,, 847-377-0520; and Conserve Lake County,, 847-548-5989.

Megy Karydes is a professional writer who enjoys picking vegetables from her backyard. Reach her at

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