As I write this, snow is blowing outside my window, BUT yesterday it was almost 70 and a little snow can’t stop me from declaring it spring! The hoop house is weeded, the soil is cultivated, and seedlings are growing in classrooms!

My FoodCorps service year has been filled with heartwarming moments with kids, but planting seeds with preschoolers definitely ranks high on the list.

Planting at the Children’s Center

Planting at the Children’s Center

My youngest gardeners in HeadStart and at the Children’s Center in Red Lodge are starting seeds with grow lights and could not be more excited about it. When I explained that the tiny seeds would grow into real lettuce plants, one kid speculated,

“This plant will grow and grow and grow a leaf as big as my head!”

Maybe! And maybe not – but their optimism and joy makes me excited to dust off the gardening tools again.

There are many small miracles in the garden in spring. This week, Red Lodge second and third graders discovered that the spinach, kale, and carrots they planted way back in the fall survived all winter and are ready to be munched on.

Spinach survived under a low hoop!

Spinach survived under a low hoop!

And finding soft, moist black soil at the bottom of our compost bins had me feeling as excited as a preschooler! A local garden expert is teaching me how to manage our bins, and we both did a compost happy dance.

As the end of the school year pulls into view (time flies when you’re tasting, cooking, and gardening!), I am also reflecting on the less literal seeds I’m planting here at Mountain View Elementary. In March, teachers adopted the Harvest of the Month program, committing to integrate one activity a month into their classroom schedule. Our newly formed Wellness Committee is bringing together parents, teachers, food service, and administrators to brainstorm innovative ways to make school food work better for our students, like serving breakfast in the classroom and holding recess before lunch. And with almost seven months of FoodCorps classes under their belt, my students can understand the nutritional components of their lunch tray and trace those foods back to the soil. I’m looking forward to watching these seeds take root and grow, changing our school’s food environment slowly over time.

With fresh garden compost, the hoop house is ready for planting

With fresh garden compost, the hoop house is ready for planting

Emma Fernandez
About Emma Fernandez, Red Lodge, MT
Emma grew up in Washington, DC in a family who built relationships by sharing good food and stories around the dinner table. She studied public policy and ethics at Princeton University, where her interest in food grew from her passionate commitment to addressing environmental and social justice issues. Midway through school, she worked with the Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative at the USDA, learning how local food systems provide a range of economic and environmental solutions to communities across the country. Inspired by this work, she spent senior year studying urban agriculture in Newark and wrote a thesis promoting agriculture as an urban planning tool. After graduating in 2013, she spent a semester with the National Outdoor Leadership School backpacking, climbing, and skiing her way across the Rockies, while learning group leadership and teaching skills. The following spring she worked with DC Greens to promote access to healthy, local foods in the nation’s capital. Most recently, she spent the summer using experiential learning to engage teenagers on wilderness trips in the Tetons and Yellowstone. Emma loves to read, hike, run, and take her dog for long walks. She is serving in Red Lodge, Montana, where she teaches hands-on nutrition, cooking, and gardening lessons and brings local products into the school cafeteria.