Anina Estrem is a Communities in Action AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Lame Deer.

It is 3 AM, and I am out behind the Boys & Girls Club watering our vegetable garden. This is not a usual

Photo by John Youngbear
occurrence, but this is the first moment of peace I’ve found all day to check on our plants. For the last week, the Club has been acting as an Emergency Shelter for evacuees of the Ash Creek fire, 20 miles east of Lame Deer. Bathed in hazy blue smoke, the Club has become home base for the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and a donation and volunteer center. 
I’ve worn many hats during my year of service: “Compost Lady,” nutrition educator, community organizer, gardener, and now donations manager. Because of the fire, I’ve neglected the Club garden in favor of organizing donations of food, clothing, and toiletries during long nights at the shelter. Though it might not fit exactly into my AmeriCorps VISTA FoodCorps job description, I see this experience as yet another opportunity to learn what it’s like to live in this region and see the challenges these communities regularly face. 
Photo by John Youngbear
Coming from Oregon’s Willamette Valley, I grew up knowing how easy and fun local food can be. Here in Rosebud County, I’ve been exposed to the realities of rural living and the difficulty of accessing quality food. It is hard to believe until you’ve lived it and a challenge I couldn’t have dealt with without the support of my wonderful FoodCorps peers. This region has little access to anything fresh or locally grown, and people regularly drive one hundred miles to go grocery shopping. Because of this, there is little knowledge or understanding of the value of local food and has been the major stumbling block to producing in this region.
Although there were times when I was frustrated, I wouldn’t change a single thing about my experience. I have learned that every community moves at its own pace and on its own unique track, and my job has been to harness that energy into something tangible. At the Club in Lame Deer, I’m asked every day if the kids can check on their pumpkins and count the strawberries. At Rosebud School, I discovered the elementary students’ delight in eating raw kale. The Hysham community organized a Bountiful Baskets distribution site, getting one step closer to eliminating the food desert they live in. All of these communities have found their own paths to improving knowledge about healthy food.
My time in Montana is quickly winding down, but I am not stopping here. I will continue to work as a FoodCorps service member in eastern Oregon this August at the North Powder Charter School, where I am excited to face new challenges in a new region. I will be sad to leave eastern Montana, but I am confident that the lessons I’ve learned here will carry me through a continuing career as a local foods activist.
***Donations can be made for fire relief through the Boys & Girls Club PayPal account at***