On a winter afternoon in Butte I recently joined community members around a large table eating local lentil hummus, bread, and popcorn. As a FoodCorps Service member, I tend to get excited anytime I share a local meal with people. This event was particularly exciting, however, because it was the first meeting of the Butte Farm to School Committee. This committee was formed to create a Farm to School Action Plan as part of the implementation of a two year USDA Farm to School grant for the “Regional Farm to School Pilot Project,” an initiative in which Butte and Boulder School Districts collaborate with the Farm to Cafeteria Network to create an urban/rural model for farm to school. There are so many significant components to this grant that will augment and formalize Butte and Boulder’s Farm to School efforts.

The most important part of the grant for me, though, is having a reason to bring all the people whom I have been working with together at one table.

Nancy Moore, Project Director at NCAT and our FoodCorps MT Host Site Supervisor, applied for the USDA Farm to School grant last spring. In addition to the creation of a Farm to School Committee, the project includes: ongoing implementation of nutrition education and garden based curriculum; technical assistance for districts’ food service professionals about preparing local foods to meet school nutrition guidelines; money for purchasing kitchen equipment to aid in processing local whole produce; and an annual technical training for regional food producers interested in selling to schools.

Nancy Moore, Mark Harrison & Andi Giddings serving
up local lentil and beef olé for school lunch!

The most important way that the grant supports the community in making lasting change is by making our Farm to School program in Butte more cohesive and collaborative. So many important players were present at our first committee meeting. Mark Harrison, the Food Service Director, was present, as were the district’s curriculum director, two teachers, two enthusiastic parent volunteers, our county extension agent, the head chef at the high school, Nancy Moore, and other key community members.

One of the most memorable moments from the meeting was when Mark began to explain the challenge of limited time for school kitchen staff to process whole produce from local producers. The High School FACS teacher responded that her Culinary Arts students could chop vegetables for the cafeteria, saying “my students need to practice knife skills but I don’t have enough produce to practice on.”

It was then that I realized the need for the whole community to come together to create a successful Farm to School Program. FoodCorps uses three pillars to connect students to healthy food: knowledge, engagement, and access. At our meeting we had food service staff that give children access to healthy food. We had teachers who educate students on what food is and where it comes from. And we had community members who build beautiful gardens to engage kids in growing their own food. I am looking forward to seeing how Butte’s Farm to School program grows through these collaborative efforts!

Written by FoodCorps Service Member Andi Giddings, teaching kids about healthy, Montana-grown foods and connecting schools to local farmers and ranchers in Butte, MT!