Wednesday, June 27, 2012

I’ve Heard of Boulder, Colorado, but Boulder, Montana?

Brynn Waylonis is an MTCC AmeriCorps Summer Associate VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Boulder, MT.

Locally grown lettuce from the greenhouse
I never would have guessed that I would be spending my summer in Boulder, Montana helping out with the 21st Century Program at Boulder Elementary, as I am originally from Central City, PA.  Since being here I have discovered what mountains truly are, and I have learned to live in a cabin with no indoor running water.  

Part of my job includes maintenance at the Youth Garden and greenhouse near the elementary school.  You can usually find me weeding and watering when I’m in the garden.  The best experience I’ve had so far was when I was transplanting tomatoes and some local kids were walking by and wanted to help.  Seeing kids say that they “love to help people” just does my heart so much good.  My intention from that day turned from solely getting the job done while enjoying myself to making sure that the kids also had fun doing their assigned tasks.  Surprisingly, the hardest part of having the kids help out is making sure that they all got an equal turn to do what they wanted to do.  The kids helped me transplant tomatoes, move the transplanted tomatoes inside the greenhouse, plant beans, plant radishes, and water the tomatoes and other plants.
Isaiah, a student helper, cutting cucumbers

It is currently the second week of the Boulder 21st Century Community Learning Center’s summer program, and so far most of my time has been spent in the kitchen preparing meals and cleaning up.  Each day I work with student helpers and my supervisor, Lea Howe, to make sure that the food gets to the kids in time for lunch.   One day I asked a girl what her favorite part of the meal was, and she said “the salad”.  Surprisingly, a lot of the kids in the program seem to like the salad, and I believe this is because they help us harvest the lettuce.

Our main challenge is getting the food into a form that the kids will eat and having some parents tell us that their kids don’t like the meals.  There are naturally some foods that the kids will not like, but the main thing when it comes to what they will eat is the delivery.  For instance, we served pizza that had a sauce containing spinach.  A lot of kids who did not like spinach still ate the meal because they like eating pizza.
 The summer program is as much of a learning process for me as it is for the kids.  If kids are exposed to nutrition at a younger age, they are more likely to continue with that lifestyle when they get older.  I was not exposed to a healthy lifestyle when I was young and mostly ate processed foods.  In high school, I tried to develop a healthy lifestyle, but it was hard to maintain since my family preferred their current diet.  So, when I got into college I continued to eat a lot of processed foods and became a caffeine junkie.  Here, I have been exposed to healthy recipes and realized that it is not necessarily more expensive to lead a healthy lifestyle if you get your food from the right places.  In Boulder, it seems like people are really open and willing to share their produce with others.

Enjoying breakfast
The transition from Pennsylvania to Montana has so far been a positive one.  I have met some amazing people and look forward to meeting more community members and continuing to learn more throughout the summer.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Growing in Dillon

Amy Bump is an MTCC AmeriCorps Summer Associate VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Dillon.

We have a short gardening season here at 5,100 feet elevation, and the UM Western Campus Community Garden looks a little rough at this stage, as weeds and bare ground are the most visible aspect of the garden.  Quack grass is our nemesis, a vigorous grass that spreads by underground rhizomes.  We’ve been battling the quack, digging it, sieving it out of the beds, bit by bit.  Our vegetable seeds are planted, and we’ve been setting out greenhouse-grown seedlings in protective tents called “Walls of Water.”  We’ve been improving the garden paths, lining them with the locally abundant cobblestones. 
This summer I am serving as an MTCC Summer Associate VISTA at the UM Western Campus Community Garden in my hometown of Dillon, Montana.  The UM Western Campus Community Garden is in its third year of operation, on a small piece of land overlooking the UM Western campus.  This summer we are hoping to reach out to more of the community and involve the public in programs at the garden.

So, we have been busy since the first of June ridding the garden of grass and weeds, planting the beds, landscaping, and preparing for a summer of exciting programs.  We are planning to host gardening workshops, a possible cooking class, kids’ camps, and a kids’ corner at the local farmer’s market.

We have a number of dedicated volunteers (students, faculty, community members, an MTCC VISTA, and a PRC Summer Associate) that help operate the garden.  Most of the produce that we grow this summer will go to the college dining facilities, and we are even considering putting an herb garden by the main entrance to the dining hall.

We are still working out the quirks, and there is always room for making the garden better.  Overall, the work is great.  I enjoy being outdoors and learning from new people, and I’m happy to work toward bettering the community where I grew up.  The seeds are planted…I can’t wait to see what the summer holds!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Summer Fun!

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

With school out for the summer, the only way to garden with kids is to… find kids! Here in Glendive, summer options are limited for school aged kids and with an influx of families looking for energy- related work in the oilfields of Eastern Montana and Western North Dakota, childcare centers, the Boys and Girls Club, and preschools are pretty overwhelmed and thrilled to offer any programming we can put together.

Snacking on pomegranate seeds
 The MTCC Summer Associate, Allison, and I are excited about a full summer schedule that will include gardening and food classes three times per week at the Boys and Girls Club, gardens at two area preschools and two, two-week “Food Class” sessions with the Glendive Parks and Recreation Department.  With a great deal of creative license, we have WAY too many ideas to be practical, but luckily teaching kids about food is very conducive to quick, diverse lessons that incorporate physical movement, interactive learning and, of course, snacks.   

Testing radishes
My host site, Farm to Table, is also very conducive to teaching kids about food with a dry food packing facility (Western Trails Food), a local/organic/allergy sensitive food store, and a community garden in the works at a vacant downtown lot. Any one of these projects compliments the others and together they begin to paint a picture of the complexity our food system entails. 

Training peas
 Here are some of the lessons we have planned: stay tuned to hear how they go!
-   Planting
Sprouting pomegranate seeds

-  Garden planning
-   Identifying wild foods
-   Native food traditions
-   Cooking- pizza, sushi
-   Sprouting seeds
-   Planning a meal
-   Farm to Table Store scavenger hunt
-   Eating seasonally
-  Weeding
-   Harvesting
-   Composting
-   Farm Field Trips
-  Grain Elevator field trips

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Summer Associate Reporting for Service: Day 1

Jordan Bryant is an MTCC AmeriCorps Summer Associate VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Somers, MT.

Ahh, the to-do list. Though the list itself takes on a different form for each of us, they seem to be one of those universal truths to which we all can relate.

Heading north out of Missoula to my summer work site I felt a bit like a blank sheet of paper, a pen hovering over my surface, about to start frantically numbering out that list.

Reporting to Somers Middle School for our first morning of service, we were given the formal introduction to our site. First stop on our tour were the raised beds that were constructed by last summer’s VISTA volunteers. The pen dropped and the list began…

                1. Weed raised beds
                2. Weedwhack grass in garden area
                3. Transplant garlic

Up next was the greenhouse.

                4. Identify plant starts
                5. Determine which plants would
                    need to be started from seed a 
                    second time
                6. Organize tools and clean workspace

The last stop on our introductory tour was the hydroponic shed, a new addition to the Somers Middle School food system.

                6. Clean and sterilize donated pumice
                7. Hang grow lights
                8. Add fresh water and minerals to the 

As our first day went on, the list grew. It filled a whole page and then spilled over onto a second. It had rained all day and we hoped out loud that the weather would improve so that we could get started in the garden. I left the first day feeling a little dizzy as I thought about all the work that had to be done.

The next morning the sky had cleared and the sun was shining off the Mission Mountains. The to-do list was just as long, and that second day it grew even longer, but with the sun on my face, I felt ready to take on the challenge.

Monday, June 11, 2012

The End is Near

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

As I write this blog, the countdown to the end of FoodCorps is six weeks. Reminiscing, I can say I have had times in Montana that have been some of the happiest of my life and others that have been the most frustrating. Ultimately, my time here as taught me a lot. I have learned that I am independent and strong enough to move to a completely new part of the country all by myself. I’ve learned that Montanans are some of the nicest people you can find. Most importantly, I’ve learned that you CAN make a difference in a short period of time. 

This past week was the final week of the school year in Livingston. I had a great time enjoying my last days with the kids. My Farm to School lessons were cut short for field trips, field days, and classroom parties, which was quite alright with me since I was invited to them all. Who doesn’t want to go to Yellowstone with 60 second graders? The kids I’ve had the opportunity to work with this year have definitely left a lasting impression on me, and I hope I’ve done the same to them. If even just one student I taught reaches for carrots instead of potato chips at the grocery store, begs their parents to go to the farmer’s market, or can identify what kale is, I have done my job.

Becky with some of her students at the end of the school year
The other exciting news besides the last day of school is the Farm to School Fun Run I planned! While I was busy and stressed days before the run, it was well worth it because it turned out great. My goal was to get at least 20 runners, but ultimately we had 30, including teachers, students, and my FoodCorps comrade, Anina Estem. It was heartwarming to see all the support, and we raised $355 for our Farm to School program. However, the most important thing about the run was that we raised more awareness for Farm to School and brought community members together over a great cause!

Farm to School Fun Run runners
While I might be retiring from FoodCorps, I’m far from retiring from the Farm to School movement. The past month I have been applying for Farm to School related jobs around the country and have found multiple organizations with good job possibilities for me.  Honestly, I think my experience with Montana FoodCorps is what really makes me an interesting candidate. While I will be off to another part of the country come August, Livingston will always hold a place in my heart. 

P.S. A final highlight of the past couple weeks was that I got to hang out with singer/songwriter John Mayer….sort of. He lives nearby in Bozeman, and he sat next to me, and even asked me a question, at my favorite Livingston bar. I’m one lucky girl!