October is National Farm to School Month and it is an exciting time to celebrate the connections that are being made all over the country between children and healthy, local food.  National Farm to School Month was designated by Congress in 2010 to demonstrate the growing importance of farm to school programs as a means to improve child nutrition, support local economies and educate children about the origins of food.

Farm to school is fundamentally about connecting different people and segments of our community through food. And not just any food; it is healthy, delicious, locally-produced food, grown by farmers and ranchers in our state and by students in our school gardens.

Jessica offers lentil hummus samples_Montana_Kalispell_1237

Every day, NCAT’s 10 FoodCorps service members help to build connections among students, teachers, food-service staff, school administrators, volunteers, ranchers, farmers, parents, and chefs. National Farm to School Month is a special opportunity for FoodCorps members to join a larger movement of people who are building community through local school food and education all over the country.  Check out these four examples of FoodCorps members who organized successful community-focused events for National Farm to School Month!

A Trip to the Farm: Red Lodge, MT

In Red Lodge, FoodCorps member Emma Fernandez organized a farm field trip to Wholesome Foods Farm in Bridger, Montana—a visit that encapsulated and celebrated Farm to School Month perfectly. Both second grade classes from Mountain View Elementary School traveled to Wholesome Foods Farm where one of the farm managers, Marguerite, gave the students a tour. The kids got to hold warm eggs from the chicken coop and taste kale, carrots, and broccoli straight from the fields. One second grader exclaimed while in the fields, “I’m in vegetable heaven!”

RL farm pic

A 2nd grader delightfully harvests squash at Wholesome Foods Farm near Red Lodge, MT

In reflecting on the field trip, Emma thinks that the teachers gained an appreciation for how hands-on farm to school education can enhance their students’ learning experience. After the farm tour, the kids harvested squash from the fields that they took on the bus back to school for use in the cafeteria. The cafeteria staff members’ faces lit up when the squash came in, and they immediately started brainstorming delicious squash recipes. The food-service staff incorporated the squash in the local lunch celebration for Food Day on October 24, and plan to use the leftovers over the coming months. The second graders were very excited to see the food they helped harvest show up in the cafeteria.

Montana Made Meals: Boulder, MT

Boulder Schools hosted their first annual “Take Your Parent to Lunch Day” in October. The school invited students’ families to join a special lunch, free to all parents. FoodCorps member Briana Sullivan and the school Food Service Manager, Lisa Giulio, prepared Tasty Taco Soup made with kidney beans sourced from Timeless Seeds and a fresh salad supplemented with lettuce from the school greenhouse. Eighty-five parents attended, which is a great turnout for a school with only about 160 students. Briana surveyed the parents after the lunch event and learned that they really loved it and were happy to be included in school food activities.

The past several years Guilio has also included parents in school food by preparing a  homemade chili for the school’s “Fall into Learning” Parent-Teacher Night. Last year, FoodCorps member Camille McGoven helped source local ingredients to make the chili “Montana Made.” This year, the tradition continued as Guilio prepared a sumptuous chili with ground beef from Ranchland Packing Co., kidney beans from Timeless Seeds, and tomatoes from the school garden and from local gardeners Dean and Connie Grenz. They also served a fresh green salad supplemented with lettuce from the school greenhouse.

The Apple Crunch Heard Across the State: Missoula, MT

UnknownThe second annual Montana Crunch Time event, organized by the Office of Public Instruction (OPI), NCAT, and other partners across the state, was held on October 24 at 2 p.m. in schools and institutions across the state. Montana Crunch Time is a special day to crunch into locally and regionally grown apples. In 2013, over 11,000 school children and adults across Montana crunched together. This year, the Office of Public Instruction encouraged all Montanans to join the crunch.

This year the loudest collective crunch may have come from Missoula, where the school district sourced apples from Swanson’s Mountain View Orchard in Corvallis to serve approximately 5,200 students in the district. That included all nine elementary schools, three middle schools, and students from Hellgate High School’s S.A.V.E. (Students Against Violating the Environment) Club. Crunch times varied throughout the district and many schools participated during their lunch times and snack times.  Missoula County Public Schools also served local plums, kale chips, and potatoes throughout October to highlight National Farm to School Month.

Swansons Apples

Take Your Parents to Lunch Day: Somers, Lakeside, Bigfork, & Cayuse Prairie

At the three schools where FoodCorps member Whitney Pratt serves, she helped orchestrate special events for National Farm to School Month. At Lakeside Elementary, parents were invited to a “Harvest Meal” school lunch, and 160 parents shared the lunch with their children.   At Big Fork Elementary, over 200 parents and grandparents participated in a similar lunchtime event.  The meals included tasty items like Summer Squash Slaw, Pumpkin Zucchini Bars, hamburgers, and roasted veggies with local ingredients including butternut squash, ground beef, Flathead cherries, red potatoes, chard, lentils, and leeks.

The whole school crunched together for MT Crunch Time at Cayuse Prairie!

The whole school crunched together for MT Crunch Time at Cayuse Prairie!

To complement efforts to serve local food in schools, Whitney also taught lessons about why local food is significant for communities. One of the third graders summed up the lesson by stating, “When you’re buying local it means you’re helping out a farmer. It’s just helping other people.” Whitney and the students discussed how buying local is good for our community, good for the environment, and makes our food healthier and taste fresher.

Written by Kirsten Gerbatsch, Montana FoodCorps fellow