When I graduated high school, I was determined to leave my hometown of Kalispell, Montana. I believed that staying would mean failing at life. I managed to move two hours away to attend the University of Montana, and after graduating, I hit the road. I spent the next two years of my life moving frequently and working across the United States. I also went on an extended trip in Europe with my best friend — camping, working on farms, and staying with incredible people who were nice enough to take us into their homes.
While in Greece, we stayed with a wonderful woman named Maria. Even as a grown woman, she lived with her family; her parents, brother and other extended family flowed freely in and out of the home. They had large family meals on the back patio, and Maria’s guests we were fluidly incorporated into the daily workings of the family. Maria was about to get married, and explained to me that she and her fiancé could simply add another room onto her parents house and continue to live there, which was customary in Crete. Standing in front of me was an incredible woman, full of generosity and love, who had deep roots and extended support in the community she lived in. Suddenly, the notion that she had somehow failed by not leaving home seemed ludicrous. I couldn’t quite remember what was supposed to be so great about leaving my friends, family and the place that had shaped me behind.
Later that year, I found myself on an incredibly beautiful farm in Oregon realizing,
“You know, there are a lot of incredible places in this world that I can visit, but in my heart the only place that feels like home is Montana.”
So I came back and sent down roots.
I have been reading the FoodCorps Montana blog for about five years. I vividly remember reading about a FoodCorps service member who had worked with food service staff to get local beef patties served in school lunch in Kalispell. Not only were they serving local beef, but they were saving $750 per year buying local beef, while pumping $35,000 into the local economy. Over time, I read about Kalispell students getting a fruit orchard at their school and children eating locally grown Flathead Lake cherries for a fresh fruit snack. I couldn’t believe these changes were taking place in Kalispell. I was inspired.
Home can be a challenging place. We intimately know the flaws of the community we grew up in. Yet this depth of understanding of a place perfectly positions us to be able to give back to that community and make change.
As a FoodCorps service member, I was offered the opportunity to come back to Montana, to serve the community of Ronan, about an hour from where I grew up. In Ronan, the students and I get to sing about plants, then cook and eat delicious local foods together. We are in the process of creating a garden. We want our students to be able to plant seeds, pull food straight from the ground, and connect to the community they live in while nurturing their bodies with the healthy foods they grew. I feel truly lucky to have the opportunity to give back to a Montana community and help students plant roots (pun intended) in our community.