At the Center for Restorative Youth Justice in Kalispell, I spend a lot of time building community, cooking delicious food, playing games and gardening with youth.

Despite the foot of snow covering all of our school gardens this January, we were able to begin getting our hands in the dirt and growing. Thanks to the hard work of our superhero volunteer Dave Brown, we planted seeds indoors using a growing station and LED grow lights of his own design and creation.

Kalispell is a wonderful place to be in winter if you enjoy outdoor activities as we have access to almost any winter sport you can imagine. The only downside in winter, however, is the lack of sunshine we get here in the Flathead Valley–in certain months we only see the sun every few weeks. So, imagine our joy at being able to pull some leaf compost out of the garden, thaw it out, and then dig our hands into it to plant seeds in order to test out the new lights and grow stand.

Well…if you’ve ever worked with teenagers you probably know that my excitement about getting dirt under my nails and sprouting new plant life was significantly higher than that of the youths I was serving with. There have been, however, so many beautiful moments in this process.

The first day we planted seeds we also attached the grow lights to the growing station. We had three youths who worked meticulously to plant each seed at the correct depth, to label the seed name and date, and to gently water the seed. Surprisingly, one of your youngest participants, who usually has a hard time paying attention to directions and rushes through tasks, asked for more help because he’d never planted a seed before.

A few weeks later we did an observation activity and after having decided that the plants needed more space as their current “homes” were too small, we transplanted the cucumbers, tomatoes, cilantro, lettuce, and sunflowers that desperately needed it. While transplanting a young cilantro seedling, a youth proclaimed “Ah, I’m so worried I’ll kill it” and by the end he had successfully ‘saved’ several plants from an unfortunate demise. Another disengaged youth spent over ten minutes intently drawing each plant with its different leaf shapes, structures and heights.

At the end of service, we went outside to check out our school gardens, and each youth was able to find some beauty through the lens of a camera, despite the thick blanket of winter snow.

At the Center for Restorative Youth Justice, in addition to creating community amongst people, we’re also creating a connection between the youth we serve and plants that they are able to nurture from seed to table.

Whitney Pratt

Whitney Pratt
Kalispell School District

Returning for a second year of service in Montana, Whitney heads from North Shore Compact to the Kalispell School District. Her first year of service at North Shore Compact helped her grow in a number of ways, from improving her classroom management technique to learning how to become part of a new community—and discovering that broccoli doesn’t grow well in the heat. Her future goals drive her service this year: aspiring to work on a farm or garden committed to working with at-risk and adjudicated youth, she is serving with the Kalispell School District and the Center for Restorative Youth Justice. She is eager to move closer to her goal by continuing to learn to be a better farmer, teacher, and community member.