Leah Grunzke is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Dillon, MT.

The chill of winter was already in the air as I hauled our mobile garden box out of the greenhouse.  The fresh green of the veggie starts within were a radiant contrast to the sunken browns of frost-nipped pumpkins that surrounded us, and sixty wide-eyed kids edged in for a closer look.

“Who can tell me what we have growing here?”  
 A chorus of excited chirps rang out:
 “Those’re beets!  I see the red!” 
 “Spinach…I love spinach!”  
 “Is that a watermelon?!”
This was the final fall “Rural Friday”, a program where K-8 students from small communities throughout Beaverhead County come together to learn, discuss, and celebrate what sustainable agriculture means in their own lives.  Two dozen student teachers from the UM Western Education department selected and designed the curriculum, focusing on regional food systems, home gardening and the importance of healthy eating.  Schoolyard gardening is becoming a more central educational trend throughout the country, so the real-world practice and expertise these student teachers are gaining at the campus garden will directly benefit their future careers.
The rural kids skipped along strawbale benches and grazed on our few remaining carrots as the student teachers led them to their work stations.  Brandishing power drills and staple guns, the teams set to work building their own mobile gardens to bring back to their classrooms.  Older kids helped the younger kids, as everybody practiced technical skills, leadership and cooperation in addition to learning the science of food production.  They took pride in picking out their favorite vegetable varieties (and learned why you can’t grow bananas in a garden box in Montana).
As well, first Lady Nancy Schweitzer joined in the festivities—an indication that programs like this are taking a central role in the discussion of education and public policy.  The experiential learning system that UM Western is providing its students, reinforced by dynamic educational facilities like the Campus Community Garden, is helping develop the movers and shakers of tomorrow’s food system.  

The rural students will take these lessons back home with them, to share with their families and communities.  And hopefully, with a little water and a sunny window, they’ll be snacking on homegrown veggies well into the icy winter months.