Thursday, September 27, 2012

Introducing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program in Boulder

Transplanted from the Red River Valley in Grand Forks, ND to the sandy mountainous landscape of Boulder, MT, I feel like a healthy seedling, brought out from the grow lights into the wondrous world of the outdoor garden. To say the least, this seems to have been a fairly smooth life transition for me. The sun is abundant, the mornings crisp and cool, the mountains a playground of hiking and exploring, and the people a wealth of knowledge of the land and community. I already feel tempted to linger in Montana long after my year-long service term with FoodCorps.
My view during a crisp September morning run.

I have been in Boulder, MT for only one month, but what a crazy month it has been! Most of my service thus far has been focused on procurement and working closely with the food service manager at Boulder Elementary School to incorporate more local products into the menus. This week, for example, we served fresh tomatoes, onions, and apples from the garden, as well as local tortillas, buns, and lentils for lunch!

Fresh tomatoes from the elementary school greenhouse and youth garden pack a colorful and vitamin-rich punch when served with salad during lunch!

Boulder Youth Garden.

One of my current projects is taking the lead on implementing the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP) at Boulder Elementary. This is a USDA funded program that provides free fresh fruit or vegetables at least twice a week to elementary school students. As our district is 78% free or reduced lunches, this is an excellent opportunity to both feed hungry children a myriad healthy fruits and vegetables and provide some much needed nutrition education. As a registered dietitian, I am thrilled to bring fresh fruit and vegetables to the kids and generate excitement around eating a rainbow of yummy produce. I often get stopped in the hallways by enthusiastic students,

“Miss Camille! Miss Camille! What will our snack be tomorrow?”
“I LOVED the kiwi (or carrots, apples, peppers…)! Can we have that again?”

The best part of my service, however, is being able to actually go into the K-6 classrooms and jump around like a crazy lady exclaiming how awesome fruits and vegetables are, and then see students not only eat but usually ENJOY the fruit and vegetables! Surprisingly, there were children, even 6th graders, who had never tried a sweet pepper, kiwi, or a carrot without ranch dip!

Before serving carrots, I had been warned by several school staff members that kids probably wouldn’t eat carrots without ranch dip. So, I came armed with a funny video “I am Colby Carrot” and some great ideas for how to encourage ranch dip lovers to try a lovely orange carrot on its own. (Click here to watch the awesome music video.) Unsurprisingly, during my first classroom visit, I was asked that fated question, "Where’s the ranch?!” Before I even had a chance to respond, I was thrilled to hear a barrage of commentary from fellow students such as: “You don’t need ranch! Carrots are delicious on their own!”

Part of what I want students to glean from the FFVP is to experience the true taste of fresh fruits and vegetables. Of course it is fine to have a little ranch every now and then and incorporating vegetables into mixed dishes is a wonderful idea, but my current goal is to introduce produce in its most natural form. Even if the students do not like the vegetable or fruit snack of the day, at least they tried something new. 

Boulder Elementary Greenhouse. 

Along with the FFVP, I am looking forward to taking my first few classes out into the greenhouse within the next couple of weeks to do some fall planting of Swiss chard and spinach which they will eat in snacks throughout the winter. And Farm-to-School Month is just around the corner in October! In Boulder, we are planning a Montana-made baked potato bar with potatoes grown in our youth garden! Be sure to learn more about what is going on this year in your own community or if you would like to get involved by visiting

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

9/11 National Day of Service in Glendive

National Days of Service are an awesome opportunity to work with some new, diverse community partners and just do something different. On significant days throughout the year, FoodCorps service members around the country and our counterparts in other fields of national service mark the occasion and do our best to plan inclusive events that will, hopefully, inspire others to service.

For Patriot Day, September 11th I worked here in Glendive with the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) to collect tea and coffee for the Veteran’s home. The state-wide project is called “A Cup of Comfort.” Although we could have simply had a local business buy all the drinks outright, the significance of including the whole community cannot be overstated.

Patty Atwell, the RSVP coordinator, and I attended the public remembrance ceremony in Gazebo Park with a signed banner and started the collection process that continued into the evening at the VFW’s annual Pork Dinner.  The turnout was fabulous as was the opportunity to bring attention to National Service in its many forms.

We will continue to collect coffee, tea and coco this month at various locations around Glendive.

While I would never say the sacrifices I’ve made in choosing national service compare to those made by men and women in the armed services, on a day like September 11th, I am proud and thankful to have the opportunity to serve. In that, I share something pretty special with all my compatriots who have sought to repay some of the privilege that comes from being American

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fun on the Farm in Red Lodge

Espenscheid Ranch is one of my favorite places in Montana. I’ve been there to help plant, harvest, and save an abandoned garden from weeds. I’ve hiked through the ranch’s hills and marveled and how fast the garden grows and the seasons change.  I’ve gotten to know the incredible people who work the land. And after all these visits, there’s still no sweeter sound or sight than sixty 1st and 3rd graders wandering about and asking questions:

Dick and Patricia Espencheid

“Where can I find the broccoli??”

“Is this a good muching carrot?”

“When is it time to dig for potatoes?”

“Can we bring a chicken egg back on the bus?”

It was only the second week of school and I was able to bring two 3rd grade classes, one 1st grade class, and ten high school helpers over to the ranch for a visit. Last year I organized a similar afternoon field trip, but having been in town for just one month, I scrambled furiously to sort through the confusion of permissions slips, transportation, schedules, and the names of teachers and farmers in a new community. What a difference one year of relationship building can make.

There were three different stations that all of the classes visited. We learned how to harvest potatoes (like a treasure hunt because the plants give us clues of where to dig), why it’s ok to munch into the carrots we just dug up (no chemicals ever go into this organic farm), and how to raise chickens, turkeys, and ducks!

There were no lesson plans for any of the stations. Instead, I wanted this first exploration to be driven by the students’ curiosity. I will have plenty of scheduled lesson time in the Youth Garden and in the classrooms this coming year, so the field trip was all about creating an open space where students had the freedom to discover a camouflaged grasshopper, examine a buried beet, or yank up that stubborn carrot.

We learned as we traveled through rows of weeds, leapt over ginormous kale, and “snuck” bites of ripe tomatoes on our way to the next station.

Fall was undeniably in the air, and since returning from FoodCorps orientation a few weeks ago, the cooler temperatures have been nagging at me. They’ve been reminding me that our first frost is just around the corner and that there is much work to be done in the cafeteria. But during our morning at the ranch, I was able to step back and take on the spirit and curiosity of my students. I was able to simply enjoy the beauty, knowledge, and nourishment that one of my favorite places has to offer.