Friday, August 31, 2012

Welcome the 2012-2013 Montana FoodCorps Team 

And we’re back!

After a fun-filled, information-packed week of orientation with the National FoodCorps team in Marin County, CA, the (mostly) new 2012-2013 Montana FoodCorps team has planted their 20 feet back on Big Sky soil. For those of you that don’t know, Montana FoodCorps has merged with National FoodCorps in order to join in a broader movement to fight childhood obesity and improve school lunches across America. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to collaborate with 70 other FoodCorps Service Members in 11 other states including Maine, Massachusetts, Connecticut, North Carolina, Mississippi, Arkansas, Michigan, Iowa, New Mexico, Arizona and Oregon!

Here's a pic of the entire National FoodCorps Team at Orientation in Marin County, CA.

2012-2013 Montana FoodCorps boasts yet another rock star team. We were fortunate to have 4 dedicated members return to their communities for a second year and 6 new service members from all over the U.S.! Check out this year’s team biographies to get to know a little bit more about us.

Picture of the 2012-13 FoodCorps Team (and some site supervisors and friends) with Denise Juneau at the Montana Farm-to-School Conference in Bozeman.

With 7 years of concerted Farm to School efforts, Montana FoodCorps has lots of energy and momentum to build off of. Last year alone, the incredible team of 9 service members reached 3,514 kids through educational activities and taste tests, increased local food procurement in K-12 schools by $43,131 (not counting milk), tended to more than a dozen school gardens, and served 2,172 pounds of healthy, local produce to kids during garden activities of farm field trips.

We can’t wait to share more stories and successes from the ground with you this coming year. So stay tuned and enjoy your last few weeks of summer!

Kael Hesford from Boulder, MT enjoying a snack of carrots he planted from the garden. Yum!
We hope you're enjoying some late summer harvest too!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Before and After

Whitney Rose is a Prevention Resource Center AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate, serving with UM Western Campus Garden, in Dillon
With the summer coming to an end, it is easy to look out into the garden and see what we have accomplished here at the University of Montana Western Campus Garden--just check out these before and after photos!

When I first arrived, the garden was filled with weeds and hardly anything had been planted into the ground. This is only the third year the garden has existed, so there was much work to be done. 

After many weeks of weeding and planting, the plots are now filled with lively flowers and vegetables throughout. Most plentiful around the garden are dark leafy greens such as swiss chard, spinach, lettuce,kale, and bok choi. With my 
academic background in nutrition, I can’t help but smile at all of these great sources of Vitamins A and C, folate, calcium, and fiber.

But what you might not see in these photos are the equally important accomplishments of providing community education about gardening and nutrition. Every Saturday we have a booth at the Dillon's farmer's market, where we have a different food related activity for kids to participate in.  We have collaborated with the campus preschool, and have given the children a plot of their own to garden and experience the amazing transition of seed to plant.
We even held a summer program at the garden for YMCA day camp members. Amy Bump, the other AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate, and I put together lessons about the environment, showed the kids how to plant, and most importantly, let them taste test every edible thing in the garden. Watching the interest that these kids have while exploring the garden gives me hope for future generations.
I wouldn't trade my summer serving AmeriCorps for anything- being a part of this food revolution that our country is facing has had a huge impact on me. I cannot imagine spending any more years of my life not gardening and living off the land, but most importantly, I can't imagine not sharing with others the opportunity to grow, eat, and enjoy food that is good for people as well as the planet. I like to show the before and after photos of a single summer, but I know the real “after” impacts are still to come.
Still growing!

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Dramatic Gardener

Katie Looney is a Prevention Resource Center AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate, serving with Somers Middle School.

Let’s be clear. I had very little gardening experience prior to my arrival in Montana. As an acting major in college, I know quite a lot about behaving like I am a plant. But while figuring out how I might move differently if I had petals for fingers might arguably be self edifying, it would not help seeds germinate in the Somers Middle School garden.

Thanks to guidance from my supervisor, Robin Vogler, best practice lessons from local growers during work days, and a Google browser history filled with search items like “brown spots rhubarb,” “how pick kale,” and “plants response person talking,” I have learned so much about gardening, in addition to goal setting, leadership, human relations, and those How to Become a Better Person skills. I have a pretty high success rate now with plants so that only every 1 in 8 screams when I approach.

The garden I and my co-VISTA Jordan Bryant have devoted every waking hour of our lives to this summer (and occasional non-waking hours when I dream about picking endless numbers of pink tomatoes) is no longer a single area at the Somers Middle School (SMS). There are plants abundant in the once covered with thistles courtyard, growing high in new raised beds around the greenhouse, and thriving in the two month old hydroponic shed.

Who plants the vegetables at SMS? The kids. Who harvests the vegetables? The kids. Who eats the vegetables? The kids. Who takes care of the vegetables while the kids are out of school? That’s where we come in. With only a week left of our service term, the garden will be ready for harvest when the kids come back to school in three weeks. Unfortunately, that means we don’t get to work with the middle schoolers directly, but I know that we're setting the stage (pun intended) for healthy eating.

That’s why the time I have spent here in Montana has been well worth every second of every day. While I still haven’t decided what noise I would make if I was a flower and how my petal fingers might be of practical use, I am proud to have worked as an Americorps Summer VISTA. I'm like a little soldier made of recycled plastic and paper materials marching with the FoodCorps army to fight the good fight, the food revolution.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Culinary Kindness

Haley Johnson is a Prevention Resource Center AmeriCorps VISTA Summer Associate serving with Kalispell District 5.

“May I please cut through the kitchen?”

It was a simple question, but I could not have been more proud of the polite patience. Throughout the summer, the children at the Summer Food Service Program have been working on their manners and respect towards others.

So, while my primary goal this summer has been to provide healthy lunches, I’ve also found myself spending a lot of time encouraging basic manners and kind behaviors.  When kids get rowdy and siblings start to argue, we have a short lesson on how to behave towards one another. I am also encouraging the children to try new foods through a “courtesy bite”.

And while it may sound stuffy to encourage manners, our lunches are far from stifled. We play games. We get outside in the garden. The kids use rulers to measure the corn that they planted earlier, and they shout with glee at the progress. “The corn is four feet tall!”

If anything, my focus on manners may even open them up to talk more, about anything and everything. We’ll start out discussing broccoli, and the next thing I know I’m being asked why boys and girls have separate bathrooms.

With just twenty five kids or so each day, I'm more than a "lunch lady," and they are more than "meal recipients." We’re a little community—nourished by good food and hearty servings of respect.