Katie Wheeler is a FoodCorps Service Member in Kalispell.

There are a number of reasons I love the Flathead Valley, too many to count really. Sure, there’s the beautiful Swan mountain range, Glacier National Park, Flathead Lake, and Flathead National Forest. But in the end, like with any place, it’s the people who tie me here most.

I’ve been incredibly fortunate to connect with so many truly good people, not just here in the Valley, but in all of Montana. And not just individuals, but groups of people who are doing some of the most inspirational work I’ve encountered. Montana FoodCorps has done a fantastic job of introducing us service members to all of the right people. We’ve been trained by, or just had casual meetings with, employees from OPI Team Nutrition, the Department of Agriculture, Alternative Energy Resources Organization, individual farmers and processors, the list goes on. I’ve had the pleasure of working with a handful of said groups and more, but there is one in particular that holds a particularly special place in my heart.

Farm Hands Nourish the Flathead is a group of women who took me under their wings from day one. And boy, did they come on strong…
“You should meet this person and this person…and go to this event…and work on this grant…help on this project…and go to this conference…”

They certainly helped me hit the ground running, and after about six months, they decided to invite me onto their board. I was honored by the offer, but so nervous. My mind raced…
Do they know my age? I never imagined I’d be on a board at a time when I felt just so ridiculously inexperienced (or ever…). Are they choosing me only because I’m young and naïve and don’t mind working 24/7? What can I possibly bring to the table that they don’t already have? What if I don’t have the skills they hope or believe I possess? What if I fail miserably?

I sincerely debated accepting their offer for straight fear that I would disappoint all of these women who I so admired.
But of course I accepted, and as it turns out, it might be the best choice I’ve made in the last year and a half.

They’d already done so much for this Valley, such as building a community garden at Flathead Valley Community College, setting up SNAP and SNAP2 at the Whitefish and Columbia Falls farmers markets, and creating the Farm Hands map. And there is so much more to come from us, including our grant from the Whitefish Community Foundation to fund senior coupons for the markets as well.

Jean’s faith in community and dedication to volunteering, Barb’s big ideas and loyalty to those less fortunate, Pam’s enthusiasm and work ethic, Jenny’s expertise, humor, and ability to keep us on track, and Gretchen’s ability to exude warmth and comfort have helped shape me into the person I want to be, both professionally and personally. I love you all. Thank you for everything, but mostly for your faith in me.