Community Closet is inspired by community projects our grants support and Farm to School (F2S) of Park County is an outstanding example. The program, begun in 2008, has grown its mission and scope under the leadership of Farmer Educator and Executive Director, Rachel Jones who was hired in 2015. “We’ve expanded our footprint in the schools, community, and K-12 curriculum. More food is being grown by kids for kids,” says Jones. F2S maintains a range of growing spaces including vertical gardens in the Park High cafeteria, raised beds, and greenhouses producing aquaponics, aeroponics, and soil-based plants.
The Community Closet grant will be used to support teen apprentices working with F2S’s Lincoln School Farm project. “Apprentices in summer months will gain job skills and practical knowledge of food systems and learn mentorship of younger kids,” says Jones. The apprenticeship is open to incoming 8-12 graders and they’ll learn basic horticulture and food system skills and earn a small stipend. Jones says, “I believe monetary compensation for manual labor is valuable and makes participation more attractive.” F2S will take over half the Lincoln School community garden to grow row crops and involve community support at every level. The project kicks off the first F2S summer camp for K-5 students. Middle School, High School, and College interns will keep the garden thriving through the summer. “It’s so exciting to have urban agriculture in downtown Livingston,” says Jones. “Food we grow will be processed and packaged at the Livingston Food Resource Center for future use in school meals.”
F2S gathers youth-grown food from these green spaces and through relationships with Montana farmers and ranchers to provide healthy local food served by the school food service. “Almost all the food we grow is purchased by the school and is USDA approved and creates a small income stream for F2S,” says Jones. “The school district’s central kitchen at the High School prepares 900 lunches a day; a sizeable market we are opening up to local producers. The goal is to demonstrate and teach sustainable, modern food production methods, not to grow all school food. After all, we don’t have a farm or high-yield production greenhouse….yet!”
Eating a healthier diet is a public health issue. “We’re investing in attitudes about food and working with kids, the school system, and parents to change food beliefs and create healthy food relationships to prevent diet-related diseases.” Jones says, “One challenge is to get kids to eat this healthy food - we have lots of strategies here – but when kids grow their own food they are more invested and more likely to eat and enjoy it.” F2S aims to change negative school food stigma, make serving fresh local food cost effective, and support local economies. They’ll also foster future farmers and ranchers and help develop the aquaponics field.
The F2S program provides practical curriculum connected to all school studies. Kindergarten - 5th grade students are at the most receptive age to develop healthy food beliefs so F2S provides hands-on curriculum and healthy eating education for these students. Older students benefit from F2S science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curriculum. Life Sciences and Horticulture classes use F2S’s Plant Growth Center to teach soil-based and aquaponics growing techniques. Students and interns work in the Plant Growth Center year-round to supply starter plants to all Livingston school gardens, produce vegetables for the district’s central kitchen, harvest native Montana Trout through the aquaponics “Trout to Tray” program, experiment with production methods, and monitor environmental conditions. Currently one third of Livingston public school students are involved in F2S programs and plans are underway to involve more.
“Community support makes this all possible,” says Jones. F2S is now an independent 501(c)(3) and currently a fiscally-sponsored project of the Park County Community Foundation, working with Park County’s school system and community partners to grow as a school-based community resource pioneering farm to table food systems for the whole community. F2S is independently funded by in-kind support, donations and grants, and nominal funds from produce sales and events.
“I believe we can transform our school systems to be the best in the country,” says Jones. Livingston’s schools are leaders in the Farm to School movement and just won another state-wide SMART (Save Money and Resources Today) Schools competition. “The ultimate goal is for F2S’s mission to be built into our school systems and beliefs so we won’t need a separate program,” says Jones.
Community Closet has given over $400,000 in community grants since 2005 and our next grant deadlines are June 30, September 30, and December 30, learn more at https://www.communitycloset.org/funding.