Today we launch our weekly series of updates directly from Montana FoodCorps members with a post from Natasha Hegmann, an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team at Madison Farm to Fork in Ennis, Montana.

Last spring, busily finishing my degree in Spanish at St. Olaf College, I knew that I wanted to work with Montana’s FoodCorps, creating and growing Farm to School programs in rural communities, but I had no idea what the job would look like on a day-to-day basis. Now, after a month serving with Madison Farm to Fork, in Ennis, Montana, I’m starting to get the the picture. Envision it: 8 a.m. on a Tuesday morning in a makeshift classroom surround by 3rd, 4th, and 5th graders wielding sharp knives. I know–some might call it a scene from a horror movie, but I call it nutrition education. After helping nine Good Thymes garden summer camp students harvest a bounty of cucumbers from the Madison Farm to Fork Geothermal Greenhouse, it was now time to teach the well-armed elementary scholars about food preservation.

Making refrigerator pickles proved to be a perfect camp project – the students were engaged and everyone wanted to participate. Together, the kids read the pickle recipe, gathered necessary ingredients, and took turns slicing cucumbers as I watched nervously and tried not to micro manage their slicing technique. To my relief, the activity went off without incident. Three hours after jarring up their pickles, even the pickiest eaters of the group delighted in devouring at least two whole pints.
In the month since I started my FoodCorps position, I’ve found that helping kids discover the wonder of good food and healthy cooking is not only fun, but also fundamental. According to the Center for Disease Control, one in three U.S. children ages 2-19 are overweight or obese, a statistic that has tripled since 1980. So when I give kids trowels in the garden, or knives in the kitchen, what I’m really trying to give them are the tools to counter the childhood obesity epidemic, including healthy eating habits and a lifelong interest in the outdoors. Granted, pickles might not be the healthiest food from the garden, but for the students who held off until the last day of camp to try a single vegetable, they are certainly a step in the right direction. Next week, we’ll try beets!

Kids’ Garden Refrigerator Pickles
• Two quart size jars with lids
• 1 cup dill (flowers, seeds, and stems all work)
• 5-6 medium cucumbers
• 4 pinches of mustard seed
• 6 black peppercorns
• 1⁄2 cup of vinegar
• 2 cups of water
• 8 teaspoons salt

Harvest, wash, and slice the cucumbers into wedges (or slices!). Place them in a bowl with the dill and salt, and mix them by hand or with a mixing spoon. Using two mason jars, add to each 2 pinches of mustard seed, 3 peppercorns, 1⁄4 cup of vinegar, and one cup of water. Add half of the dill/salt/cucumber mixture to each jar. Seal the lid and mix the pickles until you can’t wait any longer to eat them (minimum 10 minutes). Leftovers store well in the refrigerator for several weeks.

Recipe from “Got Veggies?” by Community GroundWorks in Wisconsin.