Kate Jones is an MTCC AmeriCorps Summer Associate VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Red Lodge.
As I watch kids’ eyes grow big and round at the sight of their sprouting beets that they helped plant the week before, I feel my heart swell and know that what I’m doing is helping me to grow as a teacher and advocate, just as it is helping the garden grow. This summer, I’m serving as an AmeriCorps Summer Associate in my own hometown of Red Lodge. Every morning, Monday through Thursday, Alyssa Charney, my guiding AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team, and I lead activities with children ranging in age from about four to ten in the newly-developed Red Lodge Youth Garden. Every day is devoted to a particular group of children being brought to the garden by either the Children Center or Boys’ and Girls’ Club. It’s fun to feel the different moods and personalities unique to each group of kids and to keep track of every impact they make on the garden each time they visit.
What has struck me most through this experience so far is the kids’ enthusiasm. When we ask them what their favorite veggies are, they almost always have something ready on the tips of their tongues. However, many have little idea of what some vegetables even look like before they arrive on their dinner plates, but as we show and guide them around the garden on eye-opening tours, you can watch the knowledge work its way into their faces in expressions of curiosity and mild wonder. It’s a very rewarding feeling, to know that what I’m doing is making a difference in these kids’ lives, whether it’s a small difference or a big one.
A challenge I’ve come up against so far has been the task of scaling down all the information I want to give to these kids. In the beginning, I wanted so terribly to teach them everything I have learned on my own these last few years about health, nature, diet, exercise, and the ways they are all connected. I quickly discovered, however, that the things I wanted to tell them would go in one ear and out the other. Kids don’t want to be talked at; they learn and absorb best through hands-on activities that require constant interaction. It has been difficult for me to find ways of fitting the information I want to teach into fun activities, disguising the educational value of the lesson. But, as the summer wears on, I’m learning what works and what doesn’t, and learning to adapt my lessons to a variety of age groups.
Overall, I’m loving every day in the garden, and I am very thankful to have this opportunity to learn how to grow my own food, how to instill in children a fascination and excitement for vegetables, and how to work with other people in so many different ways. I can feel myself growing in heart and experience as quickly as our Swiss chard, already overflowing in its raised bed.