Erin Jackson is a FoodCorps Service Member in Bozeman, MT. 

One of the first things I noticed about my new service site, Hyalite Elementary School, was that the mascot is a Hiker. Growing up in Vermont, I spent much of my free time in the mountains, so I felt an instant connection to the school. This mascot speaks to the school’s dedication to promoting outdoor learning and physical activity in order to create a community of healthy, caring students. And, it just so happens, that a school garden ties in very nicely to this goal!

Tall sunflowers greet students and parents each day when they come to the school. The students observe the bees pollinating the flowers during recess and examine the sunflower seeds when they drop to the ground. The close proximity of the seven raised bed gardens to the playground makes them an every day part of the students’ lives and lends them to daily discoveries and learning opportunities. Just last week, the kindergarteners dissected and explored the lifecycle of sunflowers harvested from their own gardens!

We have also been busy planting with hopes of growing some food to taste test in the classrooms before winter sets in. Most kindergarteners and first graders had the opportunity to plant spinach, lettuce, radishes, chard and beets. The previous week, third graders were busy planting garlic. Importantly, they were also able to experience the entire gardening process; they turned the beds, measured and dug the holes, and, finally, planted and watered the cloves. Everyone was surprised by the size of garlic “seeds”!

After only a few weeks at the school, I am starting to feel like a real part of the ‘Hyalite Hiker’ community. I try to go out to the gardens as much as possible so that the students can water during recess. In fact, every time I am even close to the gardens, I get bombarded with requests to help. It is so exciting to witness the students gain ownership over the gardens and jump at any chance to be part of the process. It certainly makes the watering easier and more fun!

To accompany the gardening activities, I have also began teaching nutrition education in the Health Enhancement classes. We learned about “Super Foods” and “Sometimes Foods” as well as the five food groups. I have already had a handful of students stop me in the hall to say “Ms. Jackson, I ate a super food last night!” or “I ate peanut butter today! That’s a protein!” I love seeing students make connections between class learning and their personal lives—especially when it involves nutrition. Over the course of the year, I plan to build off of these basic concepts in order to inspire even more students to make healthy choices.
With October designated national Farm to School Month, I am looking forward to farm field trips to Amaltheia Organic Dairy Farm and Rocky Creek Farm where students will deepen their understanding of where their food comes from. Additionally, they will learn how to make cheese and apple cider as well as harvest some pumpkins. I also plan to do taste tests of local produce in the classrooms to get even more ‘Super Foods’ in the bellies of the Super Hyalite Hikers!