Leah Grunzke is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Dillon.
On a mundane run to the grocery store recently, the cashier noticed me hungrily eyeballing a basket of nearby seed packets. “Like to garden?” she asked. My face lit up, and after a quick chat about what I was doing with FoodCorps—developing local food security and providing nutrition education to kids in our community—she was sold. “They’re yours,” she said. “Grow us some good food!” She handed me a bag of dozens of seed packets. Carrots, zucchini, basil, eggplant, kale; all would find a home at our Campus Community Garden. The woman behind me in line perked up. “Hey, you guys need some pots for those seeds?” Next thing I know, I’m sitting in her kitchen as she gathers seed starting supplies to donate to the cause.
And so, finally, the winter winds are dying down. Outside the window of my small cabin, finches wake me up with the dawn. The air is thick with the scent of chokecherry flowers, the late-setting sun is generous in its warmth, and the soil is finally dry enough to work. Springtime in Montana has arrived, and the garden is buzzing with activity. The little town of Dillon feels it too, and is eager to dig in.
The problem with a warm spring and a short growing season is, it’s just impossible to wait. The first balmy breeze that blows through town sends us scrambling to the garden, poking seeds into the soil even against our better judgment. One of the first sunny days in March, students trouped up to the garden, cast aside their spring jackets, and got busy. They moistened the soil, filled the pots, sowed the seeds, and packed our Solar Gem greenhouse to the gills. They chatted casually about their favorite foods, and swapped stories of growing various veggies with Grandpa, and marveled at the difference between the tiny carrot and giant squash seeds. They didn’t need to be told how important this “experiential education” was. Learning by doing is intuitive, and getting your hands dirty is just fun.
By mid-April our greenhouse was bursting with starts. The tomatoes were a foot tall! The cukes had three leaves! The students were beaming like proud parents.
By the end of April, our greenhouse was mostly empty. A 12 degree night and a window left mistakenly gaping had reduced nearly all our warm-season veggies to mush. Such is the life at 6000’, in Montana’s fickle spring! There was nothing to do but start over. Maybe it was the return of the sun’s heat on our backs, but nobody seemed too discouraged. Volunteers rallied in true small-town-emergency style, and within a day the Solar Gem was packed with fresh soil and new seeds.
The students, and the garden crew, learned some valuable lessons through the ordeal. Be patient. Don’t give up. Help your friends, and let them help you. And now, with a little hard work and a lot of faith, the garden is ready to go, once again.