FoodCorps is a national nonprofit organization that works with organizations and schools to create healthier school food environments. It is part of the AmeriCorps service network, and works to improve childhood health by placing service members in public schools around the country to teach hands-on lessons about food and nutrition; build and tend school gardens, and teach cooking lessons; and help change what’s on lunch trays giving kids healthy food from local farms.
NCAT acts as the Montana Host Site for FoodCorps. In this role, NCAT oversees FoodCorps programs across the state and helps to recruit, select, and evaluate service members and programs.
Why Serve in Montana?
Montanans pride ourselves on our agricultural heritage and strong rural communities, yet our contemporary rural food producers and low-income food consumers face a mutually-devastating disconnect. In 1950, 70 percent of the food Montanans ate was grown and processed in Montana. Today that number is 10 percent. Meanwhile, raw Montana-grown agricultural commodities ship to distant markets, providing little return for the state’s rural producers and communities. The result is that by 2007, seven of the nation’s ten poorest counties were in Montana. All were agricultural.
As once-thriving Montana agricultural communities struggle, food insecurity rises. Farmers leaving communities take with them the revenue needed to keep local businesses vibrant. Once these businesses (such as grocery stores) disappear, even those who might otherwise be able to afford food must add the costs of an hour or longer drive each way to access fresh fruits and vegetables, effectively putting good nutrition out of reach. This lack of access to healthy food leads to both food insecurity, and high rates of obesity and diet-related disease.
FoodCorps in Montana: Taking Root
In the summer of 2006, Grow Montana of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) partnered with Montana Campus Compact to launch Montana’s FoodCorps, the nation’s first statewide team of VISTA volunteers trained to create and grow farm to cafeteria programs. Each FoodCorps member was trained, provided with mentors, and dispatched to a partnering institution.
In FoodCorps’ first year alone, Salish Kootenai College purchased 10 percent (up from 0) of its total food budget from seven tribal reservation-area vendors, Montana State University launched a diversified student-run vegetable farm, UM-Western bought so much local beef that a county commissioner is proposing to build a processing plant in the region, and Missoula County Public Schools actually saved money stocking local produce.
Since then, the six original Montana FoodCorps institutions have returned over $2.5 million dollars to local farmers and ranchers.
Growing Together: MT FoodCorps Joins with National FoodCorps
Based, in part, on the successful Montana FoodCorps VISTA model pioneered by Crissie McMullan, a national FoodCorps program launched with 50 members in 10 states in 2011. Today, the national FoodCorps program has expanded to 16 states and Washington, D.C. with 182 service members.
In August 2012, the Montana FoodCorps and national FoodCorps programs merged, with the ten FoodCorps members serving in ten communities in Montana state-wide to help schools serve local, healthy foods; build and tend school gardens; and educate kids about how and why to eat food grown closer to home.
To learn more about the story of how Montana FoodCorps helped to lay the groundwork for the national FoodCorps program, visit the FoodCorps website here!
Since 2012, FoodCorps Montana service members have reached over 20,000 students across the state. FoodCorps members:
- Teach hands-on lessons about food and nutrition
- Build and tend school gardens and teach cooking lessons so kids can taste the fresh food they’ve grown
- Change what’s on children’s lunch trays, giving them healthy food from local farms.
Over the past two years, FoodCorps members have engaged nearly 800 volunteers in their communities and revitalized and built 29 school and community gardens. From these school and community gardens, FoodCorps members have brought over 5,600 pounds of garden produce into the schools they serve. In partnership with food service directors/managers and staff, as well as local producers and distributors, FoodCorps members have helped to procure nearly 36,000 lbs of local food into the school cafeteria. Additionally, they have helped to bring over 21,000 lbs of local foods brought into school classrooms for snack programs and hands-on cooking activities.
To meet the current (2014-2015) class of FoodCorps Montana members serving across the state and learn about their backgrounds and service work, visit our “Service Members” page. If you would like to learn more about our ten service sites, which comprise of public schools and non-profit community organizations, please go to the “Sites” page.