May 5—Farm Hands Nourish the Flathead recently reached an agreement with School District 6 to use and maintain the Wildcat Garden at the junior high.
The nonprofit organization is already operating several food programs at the school, noted Farm Hands director Gretchen Boyer.
Farm Hands is pursuing both private, state and federal grants to run the garden program and the district is chipping in $7,500 as well.
The plan is to have educational programs throughout the summer months, Boyer and educational director Whitney Pratt said last week. The garden has an orchard of 47 fruit trees on its 1/2 acre, a host of native and perennial plants, and several vegetable gardens and raised beds.
"This is a teaching garden," Boyer noted.
The program and the junior high will be saying good-bye to Fiona Jensen-Hitch at the end of the summer. She has been the school's Food Corps teacher for the past two years and has helped run the garden, but Food Corps as an entity is leaving the state entirely.
Food Corps is a non-profit organization that teaches youths about healthy foods and healthy cooking.
Jensen-Hitch is planning on going back to college for an advanced degree in the fall, but will stay with the garden program through the summer months, she said.
Also retiring is Columbia Falls Junior High School counselor Shari Johnson, who founded the garden back in 2013. Johnson sought grants from various entities to get the garden off the ground and has been instrumental in its success ever since.
Farm Hands has been critical in helping feed hundreds of students and families in the district. Every weekend the organizations sends home 350 backpacks full of food for families, much of it locally and regionally grown.
Since the fall harvest, they were able to provide at least some local and regional produce through March, Boyer noted, which helps support local farmers.
Pratt said the plan is to put in more raised beds at the garden this summer and to grow a "three sisters" bed, of painted mountain corn, beans, and squash.
"It's exciting that the Columbia Falls Schools wanted to invest in this," Boyer said.
Folks wanting to start their own gardens can also participate in the Imagine IF ~ Flathead Grows Seed Library and Farm Hands
Free the Seeds program. The free seeds are available at the Imagine IF Library in Columbia Falls.
The seeds are heirloom, non-genetically modified varieties and are sourced from local crops.
To learn more about the summer programs, visit https://nourishtheflathead.org/