Taking ‘Farm to School’ Initiative in Ennis, MT

“Takes Initiative.”

That’s the thing that parents of Ennis students were hoping to hear during the progress reports of their youngsters on this most recent parent teacher conference day.  In FoodCorps service, taking initiative is the backbone of our duties.  Service members are often the only “boots on the ground” that are able to devote the time it takes to improve a school food environment. So, what is initiative? Why is it desirable?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines initiative as follows:

ini·tia·tive

noun i-ˈni-shə-tiv also -shē-ə-tiv

the initiative : the power or opportunity to do something before others do

: the energy and desire that is needed to do something

: a plan or program that is intended to solve a problem

FoodCorps seeks to add fuel to the fire of Farm to School initiatives that are springing up around the country.  The young people that serve with the organization are that fuel, but finding ways into a school food environment often proves to be quite difficult for a newcomer.  This is where it helps to take the initiative to jump on someone else’s initiative!

There are quite a few national and even state initiatives that are currently pushing the Farm to School movement along.  The most recent of these is National Farm to School Month.

This initiative, advocated for by the National Farm to School Network and designated by Congress in 2010, is celebrated throughout the month of October, and is a wonderful chance to initiate the conversation around Farm to School with school administration.  It never hurts to stand on the shoulders of a giant in order to survey the landscape, and folks in a community usually take notice.

At my FoodCorps service site in Ennis, Montana, we celebrated this month with a great gift: the dedication of our new school garden shed.  In conjunction with the school’s open house, BBQ and bonfire on October 1st, crowds of students and their parents gathered around the school garden to hear about the school garden program, and to see the new garden shed building.  We served Yellow Zucchini Lemon bars, made by 4th Grade, and Beet & Carrot Patties, made by the high school Culinary Arts class.

October 1st also happens to be “National Kale Day,”  another national initiative that seeks to bring healthier food, namely kale, into the heads and hands of people everywhere. The rest of the month was a cornucopia with local menu items abounding.  Fajitas were served at lunch with Montana-grown veggies, harvested and processed by two Ennis high school students who took part in a four-week summer internship program, a project of Madison Farm to Fork and NCAT.

Another lunch was Beef Stroganoff, which included Montana-raised beef sourced from the Montana Meat Co. and later, pasties that included still more Montana beef!  After a taste test of school garden grown kohlrabi, the strange veggie actually made its way onto the salad bar in the lunchroom, where all the remaining bits were nibbled up in a matter of a few days.

The Ennis Community Children’s school even had their own slice of Farm to School Month, as they harvested pumpkins that they had started and planted last spring!

Towards the end of the month the theme was apples, and with Montana Crunch Time, another state initiative, Ennis students and staff joined in with thousands of others from around the state, crunching into Montana grown apples at 2:00 pm on October 24th.

The very next week, using apples gathered from the area, Elementary grades tried their hand at pressing cider using an old fashioned wooden press.  The fresh-pressed cider was served the following day in the lunchroom as a taste test.

All of this made for one heck of an impression on students, staff, and parents.  The positive feedback generated during events such as these makes for great momentum that is hard to stop, building support for future initiatives that are formed at the local level.  Each community has the capacity within itself to be healthy, and true growth happens when local communities take action to activate this capacity.  Providing exemplary initiatives from the national or state level give an opportunity for communities to unify under a shared vision.  It’s when that vision begins to take form in reality that a community recognizes its own potential.  So, if you feel like your effort is just a droplet in the ocean, look for a wave to hop on and see how the ripples continue through your community.

Below is a list of initiatives that might be of interest if you are looking for opportunities to grab your community’s attention to boost your school’s food environment:

  • Harvest of the Month
  • Fuel Up to Play 60
  • National Food Day
  • National Kale Day
  • National School Lunch Week
  • Crunch Time
  • Know your Farmer, Know your food
  • Meatless Mondays
  • Farm to Preschool Day
  • Healthier US School Challenge