Lindsay Howard is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Ronan, MT.
Students watching the film at the Wilma
On the morning of February 23rd, I attended the screening of the new documentary Cafeteria Man in Missoula with fellow FoodCorps friend, Becky Naab. When we walked into the Wilma we had no idea that it was a special screening just for high school students. Mistaken as a student, I was even told by a teacher to put my cell phone away! Funny as it was to be in a room full of teenagers, it ended up being a truly valuable audience to participate with. The students were engaged, interested, and actually asked questions like, “How can we do that here?”
The film, according to the website, “… is a story of positive movement. It’s about the aspiration of social activists and citizens coming together to change the way kids eat at school. It’s about overhauling a dysfunctional nutritional system. And, it’s the story of what it takes, and who it takes, to make solutions happen. The feature documentary film chronicles an ambitious effort to ‘green’ the public school diet serving 83,000 students in Baltimore. Leading the charge to replace pre-plated, processed foods with locally-grown, freshly-prepared meals is Tony Geraci, food-service director for the city’s public schools…His bold vision includes school vegetable gardens, student-designed meals, meatless Monday’s, and nutrition education in the classroom. His mission is as audacious as it is practical.”
Lindsay, Tony Geraci, and Becky
We then attended the Q&A session hosted by the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition and Garden City Harvest and were surprised to sit at a table with Tony Geraci himself and Richard Chisolm, the film’s director. Also at the table were community members, teachers, and non-profit leaders all with the goal of discussing farm-to-school opportunities and challenges facing Missoula Public Schools. Both Tony and Richard shared valuable knowledge from their experiences in Baltimore and walked the group through a strategic thinking exercise. The conversation covered all sorts of topics, such as how to engage the school board and administration and how to empower students to be leaders of change. In this work, many road blocks can surface from different angles – whether it be school policy, county sanitation policy, or something you would have never anticipated – and Tony had an answer for how to deal with it.  His key strategy for dealing with people who say, “You can’t do that” is to straight up tell them to show you the proof! Policy can be interpreted differently by different people and the lesson here is to always do the due diligence so that you can counter challenges that arise.
Tony Geraci and Richard Chisolm
One issue that came up – and one that has come up for me repeatedly during my work with FoodCorps – is the obvious fact that Montana faces a short growing season during which students are not in school. One of the many brilliant things Tony has done is to take a different perspective and flip this issue into an opportunity. In Baltimore, he turns the central kitchen into a food processing facility! The kitchen is not being used at all and the staff appreciates the option to work over the summer to earn extra income eliminating the labor barrier. I was stunned at this simple solution and am excited to explore ways that the model can be used in Montana. 
All photos are courtesy of the Big Sky Documentary Film Festival