Alyssa Charney is an MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA serving with the FoodCorps team in Red Lodge, MT.

Almost late for my second grade lesson, I hurried towards Red Lodge’s Mountain View Elementary School with a large garden box in my arms. The fierce February wind didn’t want to cooperate, and by the time I made it in the door, half the soil that had been in the box was spread across the sidewalk, all over my face, and buried somewhere in my jacket. Great.
Frustrated by the weather and a hectic morning, I started making an additional list of challenges in my head (We still need approval for a garden location. Local beef prices can’t compete with the commodity stuff. Distribution between producers and consumers isn’t going to be easy. And that snow might actually never melt.).
But I knew I needed to get to class, so I set off down the hall to second grade. I started out the lesson by asking the students about the benefits of growing our own food.
“It’s healthy!”
“We’ll know exactly where it came from!”
“Cheaper than the grocery store!”
“No bad chemicals!”
Yes, yes, yes, and yes. Exactly what I was hoping to hear. But one student still had an idea, and she could hardly stay seated as she waved her hand in the air. I called on her.
“We’re going to have fun!”
Of course! I had almost left out the most important benefit of all. I felt myself quickly slipping out of the morning’s funk.
How easy it is to get bogged down by the nitty-gritty challenges in town and discouraged by the larger obstacles of Big Ag, childhood obesity, and unequal access to good food. We are absolutely fighting an uphill battle.
But that second grader’s comment put a smile on my face, and reminded me that we’re going to keep charging on up the hill, powered by the momentum of kids who are excited about getting their hands dirty and who can’t wait to find out where their food comes from.
These students have the energy and curiosity that we absolutely need. Whether they are coming up with brilliant ideas for the garden, asking me if they can munch on a few more of the radishes I brought in for a taste test, or suggesting that we get some worms to improve the quality of our soil, these kids are the ones who constantly give me hope that those bigger challenges aren’t really as impossible as they sometimes feel.
But with so much excitement about new projects, I can’t help but worry about how much an unsuccessful indoor garden box would crush these kids’ faith in the seeds (and the nutritious food) we planted.
So it’s just about the best thing ever when I’m walking down the street and two fifth graders recognize me, stopping to exclaim, “Hey! Our plants are growing!” They tell me about the basil and spinach that just germinated in their classroom box, and we chat for a minute about watering schedules and if they think the plants need to be thinned.
After telling them that I’ll be back for a visit soon, I set off down the street, once again reminded exactly who to look to when I need the motivation to keep charging forward.