One of the main questions I receive about farm to school is how it can be possible with Montana’s short growing season. I am delighted to report that there are many farmers and gardeners growing a bounty of produce from apples to zucchini.
Further, farm to school initiatives extend beyond fruits and veggies. Tucked behind Hinsdale School, a small school on the Montana Hi-Line, is an inspiring place, one that provides beauty and a calm sanctuary, and also grows delicious food for the K-12 school’s 74 students.
Despite the harsh winters and hot and dry summers, Patti Armbrister, the school’s Agriculture Education teacher and FFA Adviser, has built a flourishing farm to school program that sources and grows local foods. In a typical year, the school’s gardens grow over 700 pounds of food for the school!
The outdoor classroom boasts raised beds, fruit trees, compost and worm bins, and vibrantly painted mason bee shelters. The students helped design and build a passive solar greenhouse and root cellar to extend the availability of the school garden produce.
Recently, participants of the Grow it, Cook it, Eat it — Montana Farm to School Workshop stood in the rain learning from Patti and her students and experiencing this incredible garden first hand. Codi Donniaquo, a seventh-grader at Hinsdale School, explains the life cycle of carrots and demonstrates why the carrots growing in the mulch of the pathway end up adorably stubby.
Patti’s passion for a brighter, more sustainable future is palpable and rubs off on anyone in her presence. “A good farm-to-school program that is growing, harvesting, cooking, and eating the produce (and procuring local foods) will do more to change the future than any other education we could possibly offer,” she says.
Later, in the warmth of the school’s cafeteria and kitchen, students, school food service staff, teachers, parents, producers, and other community members worked together preparing recipes that feature Montana Harvest of the Month foods such as beet lemonade, lentil tacos, beef nuggets featuring Montana beef, and pumpkin spice vinaigrette on a salad with a variety of garden veggies.
Students at Hinsdale Public School have many opportunities to experience and be engaged with the farm-to-school initiatives. They tend to the garden, conduct experiments, help build signage and infrastructure for the garden, participate in taste tests, promote Harvest of the Month and other local foods, and of course, enjoy school lunches that feature food from the school garden and other Montana vendors.
Patti has been leading the farm to school efforts in Hinsdale since 2009. She worked with the school’s food service staff to offer Montana burgers for a special meal. Following the Montana meal, they noticed a significant decrease in food waste and an increase in satisfaction from students and staff alike. Since then, the school serves beef from Bear Paw Meats and a variety of Montana and garden grown and raised foods.
Joyce Leatherberry and Margo Salveson, the school’s two cooks, serve up kale chips, Montana French dip sandwiches, made-from-scratch mashed potatoes, and a variety of delicious salad bar options. They work closely with Patti to try new recipes and feature new garden and local foods, ever expanding student’s palates and increasing access to healthy, fresh foods. Joyce feels that having a strong team has been the key to the school’s farm to school success.
Hinsdale School with its impressive school garden, tasty school lunches, and a strong farm to school team make it worth a visit!
October is National Farm to School Month and a perfect time to celebrate farm to school initiatives throughout our state like at Hinsdale School. Join Hinsdale School and individuals throughout the state in celebration of National Farm to School Month by crunching into a locally or regionally grown apple on October 24 at 2:00pm for Montana Crunch Time! Register at www.montana.edu/mtfarmtoschool.