On one Tuesday afternoon in January after class, a fifth grade student passed me a note torn from the corner of a piece of loose leaf notebook paper. No one has passed me a note since high school, so I excitedly read the words scrawled on the scrap of paper: “I love all the fruits and vegetables.”

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Thus, began our Montana Harvest of the Month program at Browning Public Schools. At Napi Elementary, the school food service staff and I are working with the Health Program to cover nutrition topics and run weekly taste tests of local vegetables. I am the Montana Campus Compact VISTA at Browning Public Schools partnered with FoodCorps and NCAT working to connect kids with real food and improve access to higher education. For January, we tested shredded carrots with yogurt and raisins to make a salad and also baked up some fantastic carrot muffins.

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January marks the first major efforts in Browning to broadcast our local food purchases and include more nutrition education in various programs. As a result, twice in the last week, I have been introduced to students’ parents in the grocery store or at the Southern Piegan Diabetes Prevention Center as “the Carrot Lady.” And while I wear this namesake with honor, the fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes and I are excited to move on to a new vegetable: beets. More importantly, students are excited to talk about nutrition now. Over the last month, health classes have covered MyPlate food groups and nutrients. (MyPlate is the current USDA nutrition guide.) Yesterday, I arrived to find fourth grade students waiting ten minutes early. The teacher warmly explained, “They were really excited to come to Health Class.”

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Browning Public Schools has a free and reduced lunch participation rate of 89%, which is significantly higher than the national average at about 60%. Food insecurity is a reality for most of our students in Browning. As result, there is a great community interest in gardens. Browning Public Schools and BPS Food Service have been working to improve access to garden education. We have partnered with the Blackfeet Community College Extension to develop gardens on the school grounds. Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 19th provided an excellent opportunity for students to “Plant for Peace” and talk about MLK with the Kindergarten and first grade students. Kindergarten and first grade will get to watch their plants grow and come spring, plant them outside.

For MLK Day, students also got to join in on a carrot taste test (they tried a sample of Carrot Yogurt Salad and voted whether they “Loved it!”, “Liked it.”, or “Tried it.”), doodle in some coloring books, and practice Blackfeet vegetable vocabulary. As the garden project kicks off for the spring, classes in Kindergarten through 6th grade are preparing to plant in the classroom and visit the greenhouse.

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And one thing is for certain, we will be planting quite a few carrots.

This blog post was written by Annie Mombourquette, the MT Campus Compact VISTA service member in Browning, MT. Annie is an “honorary” FoodCorps member in our eyes and we are so thrilled to have her a part of our network here in MT. Thanks for your incredible service in the Browning community, Annie!