Alyssa Charney is a Service Member in Red Lodge.

Whether I’m ready or not, this August I will finish my second year as a FoodCorps member in Red Lodge, and I’ll pack up to head back to Boston, where I’ll be starting graduate school in the fall.

Cross country skiing

Cross country skiing at the beautiful B Bar Ranch!

Though my days as a FoodCorps member have been far from the traditional world of academia, I feel so lucky to have been offered another form of education while serving, which has been just as valuable (and challenging) as the research and lectures I will reintroduce myself to next year. With students, farmers, and community members as my professors, and gardens, farms, and kitchens as my classrooms, I’ve learned more here in Red Lodge than I could have ever imagined.

Last week FoodCorps Montana took our learning and growing to yet another beautiful location for our mid-year training. Service members, site supervisors, and presenters from across the state and country traveled to B Bar Ranch in Emigrant, Montana for four jam-packed days of education and reflection.

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Each day brought sessions that provided us with specific skills and resources. For instance, staff from the National Farm to School Network and Montana Team Nutrition helped us understand how the National School Lunch program is funded and what we can do to increase participation in our schools. Erica Curry from FoodCorps National then offered lesson plans to teach fourth graders that tomatoes really do come from rocks. And chef Nick Wiseman of Roadside Food Projects taught us that working with kids and sharp knives in the kitchen is possible and not so scary, after all.

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Aubree Roth with Montana Team Nutrition presents
on increasing school meal participation

Complimenting these sessions, we had workshops that reminded us of the big issues that shape and drive our day-to-day work.  The National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) led us in a workshop on food justice, the importance of role models, and working with youth. Nancy Matheson, with the Montana Department of Agriculture, gave an excellent presentation on Montana’s food and agriculture heritage, illustrating why the number of farms throughout the state has sharply decreased over the past century.

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Erica Curry, FoodCorps National’s Training and Professional
Development Manager, teaches hands on food education
activities for all ages!

There were always more questions, ideas, and discussion than we had time for in the sessions, but luckily conversations continued over meals and cross country skiing, and we made plans to collaborate in the coming weeks.

So as I jump back into regular lessons, cooking classes, taste tests, and garden planning, I feel prepared and eager to take on the next six months. For while I haven’t been buried in the books and research of academia, my FoodCorps education has provided me with the resources I need to empower, collaborate, and question, heading in the very direction I want to be going.

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Erin Jackson and Alyssa Charney bid farewell to B Bar’s
organic greenhouse.