Nicki Jimenez is a FoodCorps Service in Ronan.

I’ve been amazed at how things continue to sprout—be they plans or plants—despite the dearth of sunlight and warmth in the Mission Valley. It is amazing school and community members who are making the growth happen.

In Dixon, an incredible parent and farmer, Pattie, is leading the effort to organize the community around building a garden that could transform Dixon. Pattie realized the need for a school garden when kids began flocking to her farm. There, they find a safe, positive space and have revolutionary experiences. Pattie was inspired by witnessing the wonderment of a twelve-year-old pick and try his first cucumber. She sees how important a garden is for children’s growth and wants to make it central to the school.

Pattie also wants to empower kids to feed themselves. Dixon is a community with tremendous need—95% of the school’s 70 students depend on free or reduced lunch and many rely on a backpack program, a longer school year, and summer school to get the meals they need. Lack of access also contributes to Dixon’s food insecurity—the town is more than 20 miles from the nearest grocery store, making it a food desert. But Pattie believes that these conditions do not mandate that Dixon kids be cut off from a healthful diet, if kids learn to provide for themselves.

Now the Dixon school community is envisioning a garden integrated into all school programming where all kids will learn to grow food, drawing on a wealth of local agricultural knowledge. While they are nurturing plants, kids will also develop self-esteem and the confidence that they can nurture a future they want to see for themselves. This will, in turn, cultivate pride and hope in the community.

Pattie already has support from the district for a site on school grounds, teachers who will use the space, kitchen staff who will serve the produce, and community members who will donate time and supplies. The 21stCentury afterschool program will be the anchor of the garden within the school. Arlene, the director, Pattie, and students have already begun preparing the garden space:

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I have the privilege of working with these amazing community members to write grants and seek resources for the Dixon School Garden. The needs of the kids and families and the positive impact the school garden will have in Dixon are so overwhelmingly compelling that it was a challenge to capture in words. But channeling the knowledge and passion of Pattie and others who know the community well, I hope my efforts will bring Dixon what’s needed to get the garden going.

While plans grow in Dixon, plants are already beginning to grow in Ronan and Pablo. In November and December, 2nd through 4thgraders in 4-H afterschool gardening clubs grew “plant pals” to learn about soil and practice giving plants what they need to thrive. Here, one of my students shows me the stubble of grass on her pal’s head and the letter she wrote to her new friend. The next week, the grass had grown into a head of “hair” and the kids were talking about how they would style it!

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With this growing practice under their belts, afterschool club students will begin growing indoor gardens in January. The Flathead Reservation Extension Office, which coordinates 4-H activities on the Reservation, is letting Pablo and K. William Harvey Elementary schools a grow rack, equipped with lights, to use for indoor gardening. But without the support of the school community members, the grow racks and plants wouldn’t have a place to live. Thankfully, four teachers and the principals have volunteered to house grow racks and containers for indoor gardening! And things will continue to grow in the Mission Valley this winter.