HARDIN — After losing a major financial backer, Hardin schools have found a way to maintain a program to teach students where their food comes from.
FoodCorps, an American nonprofit whose mission is to connect kids to healthy food in school, recently suspended all their Montana operations.
This stoppage of service left eight Montana school districts, including Hardin School District, to find their own ways to continue their “farm to school” programs.
“One of the biggest things has been the support from our school district. Without FoodCorps and having those positions we have been able to hire a nutritional food specialists’ position and they’ll really be taking over that educational component within our schools so that we can make sure we’re continuing that education pre-K through 5 and making sure there's no drop off in terms of lessons, availability, and access with our students,” said Elle Ross, the farm to school director for Hardin schools.
Before its withdrawal, FoodCorps had worked with the Hardin School District for six years, helping educate students on eating fresh, local food and helping the district obtain fresh food to feed the students.
Hardin schools felt it was important to keep this program going, so administrators applied for and received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to cover the costs. Within the school district, there is a garden and an orchard, and construction on a greenhouse is underway.
According to Ross, the students take field trips to local farms, and in the classroom, they learn about goods that are produced in Montana, including grains, squash, and beef.
“Students learn about that in the classroom and then in the cafeteria, they see it served either on the menu or in the salad bar and then part of our program is then connecting it to the community and making sure we’re able to buy local and support our local community,” said Ross.
The fresh and local food doesn’t go unnoticed by the students either.
“I think it’s good for us to work hands-on with the food so we can learn how to make our own garden and grow our own food,” said Bruno, a seventh-grader at Hardin middle school.
“My favorite part of lunch is the salad bar because it has all my favorite fruits and veggies,” said Lahna Goodluck, a freshman at Hardin High School.
The Hardin School District says they spend between $10,000 to $20,000 a year on local foods and hope to keep expanding their farm-to-school program.