Monday, April 30, 2012

The Story of Poop

Alyssa Charney is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Red Lodge.
“So next time you see an animal around, whether it’s a cow or a deer, a goat or a chicken, make sure you thank them for helping to make the soil that grows our wilderness and gardens.”

And with those words of wisdom from local farmers Ivan Thrane and Chia Chen-Speidel, the next group of students jumped up to help spread two-year-old cow manure on the raised beds of the new Red Lodge Youth Garden. At first I was shocked by how eager they were to dig in, so as we filled up the wheelbarrow, I wanted to make sure they really knew what was in the pile.

“It’s old cow poop!”

And why are we adding it to the soil?

“To feed our vegetables!”


The activity was part of an Earth Day celebration for kindergarten through fifth graders at the new Youth Garden. In addition to meeting Ivan and Chia’s goats and helping to spread cow manure, the students also learned about recycling, ground wheat and made butter, and then enjoyed the local snack they had helped to create.

For some students and teachers, it was the first time they had seen the garden with its filled raised beds, hoop house structure, and tilled plots. Two days earlier, the Red Lodge community had come out in full force to build the garden.

I’ve been saying since I arrived how impressed I am by the community’s enthusiasm and support, but on this Garden Work Day, I was completely blown away.  Throughout the afternoon over fifty kids, parents, grandparents, teachers, school board members, and community gardeners came out to help us build.

We unloaded four trucks filled with donated soil, got the hoop house into the ground, picked out rocks from an area that a community member had tilled for us the day before, and dug up some additional beds. People donated shovels, seeds and pots of rutabaga, oregano and chives.

At the end of the day I thought about about how well Ivan and Chia’s “story of poop” represents the interconnectedness of what we’re building here. The manure is connected to local beef in the schools, to the fields where the cows graze, and to fresh produce that is sold throughout the area. These different components rely on each other, and together they form a sustainable food system.

And here in Red Lodge we’re creating a system whose pieces and people rely on each other just the same. That sense of connectedness and interdependency is reflected when a student suddenly exclaims, “I helped fill this with soil last weekend!” or “My class worked to build these raised beds!” or even “This soil came from my family’s land in Belfry!”

Just as all the complexities of our food system (even the poop!) build sustainability, by bringing more and more youth and community members into the project, we’re ensuring the sustainability of the garden for the years to come.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Making Changes and Transitioning

Anina Estrem is a Communities in Action AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Forsyth and Lame Deer.

“What do you think this is?” Students reach for the pieces of vegetable I’m offering and examine it closely.

“Is it lettuce?”

“It smells like broccoli.”

“I don’t want to eat it.”

Several weeks ago I introduced Rosebud’s elementary students to kale, most of whom had never tried this strange green leaf before. Raw kale can be slightly bitter and tough, so I also brought ample amounts of baked kale chips which I assumed students would gobble down. Imagine my surprise when every one of the kindergarten through 6th grade classes tasted the kale chips, exclaimed over how they tasted like potato chips, and clamored for more raw kale. In my final lesson of the semester last week, we reviewed what we’ve learned this year (in song) and ate what else- more kale! One student informed me she got kale seeds in her Easter basket. A kindergartener was thrilled to announce he had kale for dinner the night before. A third-grader told me that she intends to plant kale in her garden plot.

During the last eight months, I have not always been convinced that I am making a difference.  Change comes reluctantly, and results often aren’t easily discernible. I’ve had to accept on faith that the ideas I’m spreading and relationships I’m building have an impact, even when I can’t see it.  My faith was rewarded by finding Rosebud’s elementary students transformed into kale-eating fiends!

This success gives me new confidence and enthusiasm to take on the final three months of service. Because over 50% of Rosebud students live out-of-district, developing a summer program isn’t feasible. Looking to stay busy with the end of the school year quickly approaching, I have transitioned to serving with the Boys & Girls Club in Lame Deer.

Lame Deer is a town of about 2,000 people located sixty miles south of Forsyth on the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation. My new host site, the Boys & Girls Club, offers a safe and fun hang-out spot and in the summer provides meals for hundreds of children. I’ve already learned that accessing fresh or local food is even harder here than in Forsyth, and diet-related disease is widespread. To change this, we are building a garden out of shipping pallets to help supply the Club’s kitchen and allow members to learn the origins of what they’re eating. We intend to partner with the Club’s mentoring program to get both kids and adults gardening, and to integrate nutrition education into other existing programs.

At the Echoes of the Earth Conference in Bozeman on Climate Change, 
with representatives from the Club and tribal Elders.
Lame Deer is a new experience for me- I’m learning to live in a new community and a new culture where I face harsh local realities about accessing food and good health. But my experience in Rosebud taught me that even when it feels hopeless and like no one is listening, change actually is happening.

Baked Kale Chips
Wash and dry kale thoroughly, and strip leaves from stem. Toss lightly with olive oil and salt, and bake at 350 on a cookie sheet for 10-15 minutes until crispy for a delicious crunchy snack!

Want to learn more about how to build a garden using shipping pallets?  Check out these links:

Monday, April 16, 2012

Montana FoodCorps Mid-Term Stats

How is the Montana FoodCorps year shaping up halfway into our service term?

46 schools   The nine current Montana FoodCorps members work with 46 schools across the state

23 schools  that FoodCorps members work with have at least 50% of the student body receiving free and reduced price school meals 

1,896 students  have been taught hands-on lessons in classrooms and gardens by the current FoodCorps members

8,000 students,  approximately, have been fed Montana-made school meals

94 community members  participate on steering committees for FoodCorps activities in host communities

8 of 9 FoodCorps members  are preparing soil this spring for school gardens.  Roll up your sleeves and help out—visit our Pitch In page to get involved!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Glendive Grows!

Anne McHale is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Glendive.

Where do fruits and vegetables grow?
I answered a call the other day from a teacher at Glendive’s Headstart program. Rumors of my work in town had reached them at last!  We chatted and exchanged niceties, and I spoke of nutrition and food origin activities I’ve done with other groups, including one where kindergarteners and first graders colored fruits and vegetables and placed them on a poster that corresponded with their growing location- underground for root vegetables, on a vine, on a bush, or in a tree. There were some that stumped me, actually- who knows where a star fruit grows? And do peanuts grow underground or on a bush? In a tree?  

So we’re looking at doing something similar out at Headstart and as the conversation was winding down, Tulli, the teacher I was on the phone with, paused and then sheepishly got to the point: “And…” she said “and… did I hear you have… vegetable costumes?”

I about fell off my chair laughing. In this small town, a giant apple makes quite a splash and having these darn costumes on loan from MSU Bozeman has done more for promoting Farm to School than all my other efforts combined. When I borrowed the apple and the corn costumes, I didn’t anticipate actually wearing either myself. Boy, did I have something else coming. If you want something done, you’ve got to do it yourself and that’s doubly true when it comes to sporting oversized foam fruits and matching hats. 

Anne wearing the apple costume
Here in Glendive, where the population density doesn’t even qualify us for “rural” designation (we’re “frontier”), a sense of humor goes a long ways in building relationships with people and organizations accustomed to being spoken down to by outsiders hawking quick fixes for development on the Great Plains. And actually, taking myself too seriously is one of my worst character flaws, so looking ridiculous is good for my program, and good for me too. 

Monday, April 2, 2012

March Madness and Gladness!

Becky Naab is a PRC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Livingston. 

As an avid basketball fan, March is the time of year college basketball is at its best with the March Madness tournament. As a FoodCorps member March is the time of year when it becomes time to start getting ready to garden and plan spring events. Both are reasons  why I absolutely love the month of March.

Window box planting
This month I finally received some Nancy’s Garden Boxes.  These boxes are made from recycled Montana state license plates and wood, and are distributed as part of the Governor’s and First Lady’s Math and Science Initiative.  I made sure to get one for each classroom I teach in (nine total). Currently, we are growing a variety of lettuces and some basil in the boxes. When finished, the lettuce and basil will be part of a fundraiser meal I am coordinating with our 5th grade students and teachers. The meal will feature as many local ingredients as possible, including our lettuce and basil, Pasta Montana pasta, homemade rolls made with Wheat Montana flour, and Wilcoxson’s Huckleberry Ice Cream, which is made right here in Livingston! The students will be working with a local chef to prepare and serve the meal to their parents and other guests. All the money raised for the event will provide funding for project based learning activities for our 5th graders as well as Farm to School!

Speaking of fundraising I have begun a new venture --planning the inaugural Livingston Farm to School 5K! For this run we will literally be running from Geyser Farms in Livingston to one of our schools! I have never organized a run before so I was a little apprehensive to do this, but with the encouragement and support of my supervisor, I’m working hard to make it happen. I’m learning that a lot more goes into planning a run than one might think. Recently, I met with our city commissioner, and he gave me then run down on all the regulations I must follow, along with a packet of paperwork to fill out. Luckily for me, our city commissioner is also a run
More paperwork
organizer as well. He gave me tons of advice and tips from the best ways to time the runners to where I could get free running bibs (the number you attach to yourself while running for identification). The planning of this run in the next couple months will be hectic, but I know in the end it will be worth it. Runners mark your calendars for Saturday June 2nd and come down to Livingston for our Farm to School Run! Seriously, if you’re interested let me know. Registration will hopefully start the end of April.

Finally I’ve been working with one our most enthusiastic science teachers at the middle school to start a new garden. I had 5 raised beds built by the industrial tech class at the high school this winter with some leftover grant money. After the students come back from spring break, we will be breaking ground, setting the boxes, and planting! While I’m excited to get the garden started, I’m even more enthused about having a teacher so on board and willing to take ownership of the new garden. It was my greatest fear that I would start a garden, be all alone slaving over it until I finished my year of service in July, and then leaving it to die without another caretaker. Now I have no worries and am anxious to get this garden going!

As you can see March has been a busy month for me. From Farm to School event planning to watching the March Madness tournament, my plate has been full and I wouldn’t want it any other way!

Mixing business with pleasure.  Watching the Griz in class!