Alyssa Charney is a Service Member in Red Lodge.
“But what do you do all day now that it’s snowy, cold and gray?”
Recently it feels like a day doesn’t go by when I’m not asked some version of that question. Walking to work. In line at the grocery store. Running into parents and friends around town.
After being in Red Lodge as a FoodCorps member for over a year now, I’ve become known as “the garden girl.” Which is great. There is really no other title I’d rather wear. I worked for months to find land for the Youth Garden, and then I got to spend all summer hanging out with kids in the newly established garden, so it does make sense that people would assume that I too must rest when the garden is put to bed.
But getting kids excited about good food doesn’t stop when the ground freezes and the snow falls, because if the season for healthy eating and learning were really as short as the official “growing season” around here, we’d be in big trouble.
So what do we do all winter long?
Well, to begin with, despite the appearance of complete dormancy when one drives by the Red Lodge Youth Garden, our snow covered hoop house is actually full of life. Kale, chard, lettuce, and spinach planted by elementary school students continue to grow, now with extra protection from the row cover that was lent to me by a local farmer.
When my four regular 1st and 3rd grade classes aren’t trekking a few blocks through the snow to the garden to plant rows of garlic or to investigate what’s growing in the hoop house, we’re inside having fun in the classroom.
We recently learned about reasons to LOVE legumes (They’re protein and vegetables, make food for the soil, and can be planted again as seeds!) We then sprouted black beluga lentils to watch them grow and enjoy a delicious snack. We learned the story of the three sisters crops (corn, squash, and beans) that the Native Americans shared when the Pilgrims first arrived. And we ground corn with mortar and pestles, to connect with the corn bread muffins we later baked and enjoyed.
And when I’m not in the garden, classroom, or kitchen, I’m dreaming up a new youth camp out on a local farm, plotting summer evening activities for the garden, or seeking new partners in town for future projects.
As I continue on with these winter activities, new surprises inspire me each day. I’m inspired by the kids who tell me the corn bread muffins we baked are better than any cupcake they’d ever had. I’m inspired by the spinach that finally germinated in the hoop house in spite of cold days outside. And I’m inspired by the persistence of community to continue to build our food system, even when the earth seems so very at rest.