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FoodCorps Brings Nutrition to Rural Montana Schools

In an effort to counter rising obesity rates among children, one Montana group is looking to a younger generation to take the lead in bringing locally-grown, nutritious food to schools in the area. The Grow Montana coalition, in conjunction with AmeriCorps, is accepting applications from March 25 to April 22 for a team of 11 FoodCorps members who will develop Farm to School programs in Montana’s food deserts. Because many residents in these areas must drive an hour or more to the nearest grocery store, good nutrition is literally out of reach.

As AmeriCorps VISTA members, the FoodCorps team aims to address this problem by connecting schools with farmers and ranchers to serve healthy, locally-grown meals, building and tending school gardens, and educating students about how and why to eat nutritious foods.

While FoodCorps members will serve rural communities with great need—many of the schools have greater than 50% of student population enrolled in the federal free and reduced lunch program—they will also be building on local strengths. For example, Robin Vogler, school food service director in Somers, Montana, has already switched all beef purchases to local, grass-fed beef, and works with area farmers to buy local produce when it’s in season. Vogler is excited to host a summer FoodCorps member to launch a school garden and greenhouse so that she can provide hands-on education to complement her lunchroom initiatives.

Supported in part by NIFA Community Food Projects, Grow Montana is confident that FoodCorps will succeed, because a version of it already has. In 2006, Grow Montana launched the nation’s first FoodCorps, placing members at:

  • Salish Kootenai College, a tribal college located on the Flathead Indian Reservation;
  • Montana State University;
  • The University of Montana-Western; and
  • Missoula County and Gallatin Valley Public Schools, two of the state’s largest school districts.

In FoodCorps’ first year alone:

  • Salish Kootenai College purchased 10 percent (up from zero) of its total food budget from seven tribal reservation-area vendors;
  • Montana State University launched a diversified student-run vegetable farm;
  • UM-Western bought so much local beef that a county commissioner is proposing to build a processing plant in the region; and
  • Missoula County Public Schools actually saved money stocking local produce.

In 2009, FoodCorps volunteers helped direct $1.2 million to Montana’s farmers and ranchers.  Now, Montana’s FoodCorps is a model for a national program aiming to reach ten additional states this summer.

For information about applying for Montana’s FoodCorps, click here (applications are due April 22, 2011).

And if you’re looking to join the national program, you can apply here (applications are due by April 10, 2011). With sites in 10 states, national Food Corps volunteers will build and tend school gardens, teach kids about food and nutrition, and source local food for school cafeterias and snack programs.

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