Louva Montour began volunteering at STAR (Service To All Relations) Charter School in 2001. Later, she would become the school’s chef, the home-ec instructor, and a founding member of the STAR Wellness Committee.
Since the start of my service at STAR I’ve been fortunate to work closely with Louva, assisting in her home-ec classes where we utilize the garden harvests as much as possible. She is an extraordinary source of support and has become wonderful friend.
When I sat down with Louva, she was deep in the process of ordering new wellness spirit wear for STAR students. Graciously, she took a break from her work to speak with me about food, wellness, and her history at the STAR School.
What is one your favorite memories from your childhood involving food?
I guess an event that I remember was when I was at Leupp Public School there was a Native American week or something, and there was a fry bread making contest. I entered that and I won. I just remember that.
Who did you learn to make fry bread from?
Probably my mom. Definitely not my sister. [laughing] She would always make bread. It was just something that she did almost every day – she made fresh bread.
Has the way that you prepare and eat your food with your family now changed from the way food was prepared and cooked when you were a child?
It is different – a lot different. I think now we have access to a lot more varieties of foods. Back then we grew corn, and squash, and cantaloupe, cucumbers, and onions – but we didn’t really buy those things from the store.
Did you go with your family to the farm where you grew crops?
We lived there. My grandfather used to farm there too. We set up a little shed and we would live out there for the whole summer. Usually one of my grandmas used to stay home. We would put all the sheep herds together, so someone would stay back and take care of the sheep, while everyone else went to the farm.
Back then we grew corn, and squash, and cantaloupe, cucumbers, and onions – but we didn’t really buy those things from the store.
Will you tell me how you came to work for STAR School, and how you transitioned into the role of home-ec instructor?
I live in the community. When we heard there was a school being built here, my kids were young, just barely getting into the ages for them to attend school. We came over here (Star School) to see what kind of school it would be. That was in 2001. After finding out about the school, we met the Sorenson’s, and we found out that the school would be a charter school, but open to anyone in the community.
I guess, I think what helped us decide to bring our kids here was the idea of parental involvement. We wanted to be involved. I remember that was one of the main things we wanted to do. And so, I came in and just volunteered as a parent. And then a couple years later, after our kitchen was certified with the county, I was hired as the cook.
But before then, kids were bringing their own lunches. They were bringing a lot of Ramen noodles, and some of them were eating it dry out of the bag. Some them would just bring a soda – that was their lunch. So we started just making them peanut butter and jam sandwiches until the kitchen was certified for food prep.
The kids themselves wanted to do something after school. That was their request. So we got them together and said, ‘What do you want to do?’ They said, ‘Let’s have a Native American club.’ We asked, ‘What do you want to do?’ and they said, ‘We want to cook, we want to sew, do community service, and go visit the elders.’ It was basically almost the whole school in the Native American club.
But before then, kids were bringing their own lunches. They were bringing a lot of Ramen noodles, and some of them were eating it dry out of the bag. Some them would just bring a soda – that was their lunch.
Louva and students prepare mutton and squash stew for a Thanksgiving community meal.
So they did a lot. We fundraised for their activities and for an end of the year trip. We used to cook outside a lot. We got an outdoor grill, and made kabobs and grilled tortillas outside. A lot of baked goods, a lot of baking. But it was basically all — almost all — their idea.
So then, after a couple years, we got a grant for an after school home-ec program, so home-ec became an after school class. They did a lot of cooking and working with foods, and visiting the elderly out on the reservation, and taking trips to the nursing homes too. One of the kids would mention that they had a grandma at the nursing home, so we would go and visit. We would bring little crafts or baked goods or something.
We found out that most of the students really enjoyed the after school home-ec, so we decided to have it during the regular school day. Most classes would come in and participate in home-ec. Probably for the last 8 years, because thats when the rules changed with the National School Lunch Program and all the healthy foods. That’s when it became a more of a culinary and nutrition program.
What do you believe is the most important lesson or teaching that the students take away from the home-ec class?
The fun of cooking. Just having fun, cooking, being creative, and probably learning about nutrition and portion control. We made a soup the other night, and they (the students) were wondering if it would be enough. I said stretch it out – and they did.
I think it is just something that is good for them to learn. Just the way my boys grew up: they went to school here, and they also took culinary in high school, and they still enjoy cooking, so now they can feed themselves — they can live by themselves and cook for themselves. I guess thats it. [laughing] They don’t have to eat out all the time.
Just the way my boys grew up: they went to school here, and they also took culinary in high school, and they still enjoy cooking, so now they can feed themselves — they can live by themselves and cook for themselves.
To learn more about Louva’s work and the amazing initiatives at the STAR School, check out their website here.