Monday, March 26, 2012

Spring in the Flathead!

Katie Wheeler is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Kalispell, MT.
March was a big month for the Flathead Farm to School Program! We began building a hydroponic grow house at Somers Middle School; planted seed starts at Elrod Elementary School for the garden we are building in April; piloted a 5-week after school cooking and nutrition class at Edgerton Elementary School; began planning a BIG garden and food security focused event for Global Youth Service Day; and supplemented nutrition for students with extra fruit throughout the days of CRT state testing. Phew! April has a lot to live up to now!

  • With the help of Montana FoodCorps and Montana Conservation Corps, Robin Vogler, the Somers/Lakeside Food Service Director, is overseeing the building of a hydroponic grow house that will first provide lettuces and then many other delicious crops to her students. The best part is that Robin teaches a nutrition and cooking class, in which the students will be able to work in the new grow house as well as the school garden that was built by FoodCorps and MCC last summer!

Building the hydroponic grow house

  • Last week, fellow AmeriCorps member Lexi Gilbert and I worked with the Elrod Elementary 4th grade classes to plant starts for our school garden. We talked to the students about our vision for the garden, showed a time-lapse video of a seed germinating, and Lexi gave a great lesson about the plant cycle. The 4th grade curriculum already touches on plants, so it was a great opportunity to supplement their knowledge with hands-on work through planting the starts. We’ve got carrots, snap peas, zucchini, basil, tomatoes, chard, lettuce, and many other tasty treats coming our way this season!

  • In the first block of our new after school cooking and nutrition class, Colin Beveridge, a volunteer from Flathead Valley Community College, and I taught eight 5th graders how to make quinoa stuffed peppers, chocolate beet cupcakes, smoothies (with spinach!) and omelets, and lasagna with ricotta from scratch! The class was a great success with both the students and parents feeling grateful for the opportunity and we can’t wait to do it again!

Chocolate Beet Cupcakes

  • For Global Youth Service Day on April 21st, Montana FoodCorps, Montana Academy, Montana Conservation Corps, Nourish the Flathead, and the Center for Restorative Youth Justice are partnering to put on an event at Flathead Valley Community College. The event is focused around opening up the Nourish the Flathead community garden, building raised beds for the Elrod Elementary garden, completing an art project and learning about food security in the Flathead Valley. We expect approximately 80-100 students to participate in this event!

Global Youth Service Day

March was a productive month for us and we cannot wait for all of these projects and programs to get further off the ground in the coming months!

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Power of Film to Mobilize Change

Lea Howe is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Boulder, MT.

Film is a powerful tool in the sustainable food movement. Over the past few years, several documentary films-- big budget and bootsrapped productions-- have changed the way Americans think about food. The strength of these documentaries lie in the artful combination of poignant messages and compelling imagery.

Here’s why. The “problem” is often too big to comprehend. But real people doing real work often makes change seem possible. Which has underscored the power of many documentary films. Putting a face to others working in the trenches has inspired many new people to “join” the movement.

Documentaries have been one of my go-to tools here in Boulder. I have been here for nearly 8-months and my job is known by most in this small town. People often refer to me as  “Food Lady,” “Health Nut,” or “Garden Girl.” In fact, just the other day, I had my first lesson with the Kindergarten class and when I walked into the room, the kids jumped out of their seats and excitedly asked if I’d brought them vegetables to eat.
Jessie dishing up lentil hummus

“Miss Lea, do you have any of that yellow mush for us!”
“You mean lentil hummus?”
“Yes that!”
“No, today we’re going to make nut butter!”
“Ok, but sometime will you bring us that yellow stuff again?”
“Yes, I’ll bring you hummus soon.”

(How cool is it that kindergartners are begging for lentil hummus!?)

While I am thrilled that students, teachers, parents and community members recognize and appreciate the work I do, there are also times that I begin to worry that my message (re: the benefits of healthful eating, supporting local and sustainable food, starting gardens, etc.) gets tired. And maybe even lost.

Which is precisely the moment I turn to film. It has been incredibly important for me to have my information reaffirmed and reinvigorated by other sources.

I started a weekly Food Film Series at the Boulder Public Library in January. Each Thursday at 7PM, community members come to view a different documentary on food. I provide healthy snacks often inspired by the subject of the film (i.e. Non-GMO, organic popcorn for King Corn) and community members stay afterwards for a discussion.
It’s not uncommon that we find ourselves in the library until well-after 10PM in passionate conversation about the ramifications of the film’s subject matter in our lives. Everyone asks: “What we can do here in Boulder to increase awareness about the issues and work together for change”?

The ideas that have blossomed out of this film series are astounding. Sure, it was my work in classrooms, Methodist hall meeting rooms, gardens, and town streets that started the conversation. But it often takes a stirring message--and some powerful imagery-- to excite people to action. Eight films later, teams of people have emerged from the woodwork ready to make change in Boulder, or at least in their own lives.

I am excited to see how many people we can reach one year- and fifty films - from now.

Speaking of film, check out Jefferson High School’s PSA called “You Are What You Eat.” It was recently awarded the Grand Prize for Montana Team Nutrition’s Youth Focus on Health Video Competition!

Lentil Hummus:
      Montana-grown lentils
      Olive Oil
      Lemon Juice
      Spice (smoked paprika, cumin, curry, or any other spice that strikes your fancy!)

      Cook lentils with several cloves of garlic, a drizzle of olive oil, and a dash of salt in water until well done/mushy. (approx 1:3 ratio of lentils to water)
      Toss in spice to taste when almost done boiling.
      Pour in blender with a squeeze of lemon juice and a tad more olive oil.
      Blend until creamy.
      Use as dip for your favorite fruit, veggie or bread. Enjoy!

Lea's Films Screenings in Boulder:
  • Food, Inc.
  • Tapped
February and March:

  • Friday, February 3: DIRT!
  • Friday, February 17: Chocolat
  • Tuesday, February 21: King Corn
  • Tuesday, February 28: Vanishing of the Bees

  • Tuesday, March 6: A Delicate Balance CANCELED
  • Thursday, March 15: Supersize Me
  • Thursday, March 22: The Real Dirt on Farmer John
  • Thursday, March 29: Queen of the Sun
Other films we are planning on screening through April/May: 
Truck Farm
Food Stamped
The Greenhorns
Forks Over Knives
Blue Gold
Processed People
Finding North
Farmrun “On the Anatomy of Thrift” – A friend’s film (you can stream online)
The Future of Food
The Garden
Fast Food Nation
American Meat

Monday, March 12, 2012

Recharging for Spring

Leah Grunzke is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Dillon, MT.

The wind is yowling through the canyons.  Skeletal fingers of cottonwood and willow shiver and quake in the February cold, and some days I can hardly recall the taste of sunshine in a fresh-picked tomato.  In the throes of a long Montana winter, the joys of growing fresh, nutritious food right in our own backyards can seem like a hazy, untouchable memory.  What better time for the Montana FoodCorps team to come together, to refresh our commitment to getting healthy local foods to kids?

This month brought the opportunity to do just that, as we braved frozen highways to land in the breathtaking Paradise Valley for the FoodCorps Winter Retreat.  We found ourselves in the Tom Miner Basin at the spectacular B Bar Ranch, a unique organization committed to advancing a “healthy, thriving ecosystem and the human endeavors within it”.  It was the perfect setting to cozy up, swap stories, learn from each other and recharge for the work that lies ahead.

Leah Grunzke shares her strategic plan
With more than half our year’s term of service complete, we had plenty of stories to swap.  While we’re all working to provide nutrition education, engage and empower our neighbors, and increase access to healthy local foods, the challenges and opportunities that arise in each of our communities take very different shapes.  Sharing what’s working (or not!) has proven to be the best way to generate new ideas for what lies ahead.

Opportunities for learning and planning abounded during our three days at the ranch.  We chatted with Cecily Upton, the Program Director for National FoodCorps, and Mary Stein of the National Farm to School Network and Katie Bark of Montana Team Nutrition shared resources and practical guidance.  We brainstormed ideas for a user-friendly Farm to Cafeteria Connections network, discussed how to connect with Montana campuses and universities, got practical advice on greenhouse production and season extension, and heard inspirational stories of success using local foods at Livingston HealthCare.  And of course, our fearless leader, Crissie McMullan, shared her positivity, enthusiasm and support as we practiced strategic planning and leadership development and reflected on the work we’re doing.

On top of all the work we got done, we still found time to hike and ski, visit the draft horses and chat with the gregarious ranch chef, tour the greenhouse, and strengthen our bond as a group of people with the same passion for sustainable food systems.  We left the ranch recharged and excited about the days ahead.  Spring is right around the corner, and we’ve got seeds to plant, bellies to fill, and a new generation of leaders to cultivate.  It’s time to get to work.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Summer Associate Positions!

Recruitment for 2012 MTCC and PRC Summer Associate positions are underway!  Summer Associates work for 10 weeks, June-August, at a FoodCorps site, helping to maintain or construct school gardens, helping provide healthy meals/snacks for kids during the summer, and helping to provide educational opportunities for kids in the garden during the summer.

This is a great opportunity for college students looking to gain new experience during the summer, and a wonderful chance to learn about a new region of the state.  Summer Associates receive a modest living stipend and the option of an education award or an end of term stipend for their term of service.

Applications for MTCC and PRC Summer Associate positions will soon be posted on  Keep checking back if you are interested in applying.  If you have questions, please email Sarah Bhimani at

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cafeteria Man

 Lindsay Howard is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Ronan, MT.

Students watching the film at the Wilma
On the morning of February 23rd, I attended the screening of the new documentary Cafeteria Man in Missoula with fellow FoodCorps friend, Becky Naab. When we walked into the Wilma we had no idea that it was a special screening just for high school students. Mistaken as a student, I was even told by a teacher to put my cell phone away! Funny as it was to be in a room full of teenagers, it ended up being a truly valuable audience to participate with. The students were engaged, interested, and actually asked questions like, “How can we do that here?”

The film, according to the website, “… is a story of positive movement. It’s about the aspiration of social activists and citizens coming together to change the way kids eat at school. It’s about overhauling a dysfunctional nutritional system. And, it’s the story of what it takes, and who it takes, to make solutions happen. The feature documentary film chronicles an ambitious effort to ‘green’ the public school diet serving 83,000 students in Baltimore. Leading the charge to replace pre-plated, processed foods with locally-grown, freshly-prepared meals is Tony Geraci, food-service director for the city’s public schools…His bold vision includes school vegetable gardens, student-designed meals, meatless Monday’s, and nutrition education in the classroom. His mission is as audacious as it is practical.”

Lindsay, Tony Geraci, and Becky
We then attended the Q&A session hosted by the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition and Garden City Harvest and were surprised to sit at a table with Tony Geraci himself and Richard Chisolm, the film's director. Also at the table were community members, teachers, and non-profit leaders all with the goal of discussing farm-to-school opportunities and challenges facing Missoula Public Schools. Both Tony and Richard shared valuable knowledge from their experiences in Baltimore and walked the group through a strategic thinking exercise. The conversation covered all sorts of topics, such as how to engage the school board and administration and how to empower students to be leaders of change. In this work, many road blocks can surface from different angles – whether it be school policy, county sanitation policy, or something you would have never anticipated – and Tony had an answer for how to deal with it.  His key strategy for dealing with people who say, “You can’t do that” is to straight up tell them to show you the proof! Policy can be interpreted differently by different people and the lesson here is to always do the due diligence so that you can counter challenges that arise.

Tony Geraci and Richard Chisolm

One issue that came up – and one that has come up for me repeatedly during my work with FoodCorps – is the obvious fact that Montana faces a short growing season during which students are not in school. One of the many brilliant things Tony has done is to take a different perspective and flip this issue into an opportunity. In Baltimore, he turns the central kitchen into a food processing facility! The kitchen is not being used at all and the staff appreciates the option to work over the summer to earn extra income eliminating the labor barrier. I was stunned at this simple solution and am excited to explore ways that the model can be used in Montana. 

All photos are courtesy of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival