Summer Youth Internship Digs into Montana Community-Based Food Systems

On her first day of work at the Madison Farm to Fork greenhouse in Ennis, high school sophomore Hailee Lindemulder was feeling a little overwhelmed. “We were new to all of this,” she says, “and just got a big wave of ‘whoa!’” Understandable, as “this” refers to everything from greenhouse gardening and selling produce at a farmers market stand to leading grade school students at a garden summer camp and processing a year’s supply of fajita veggies for the Ennis school district.

“What did we get ourselves into?” Hailee and Alysa on the road during the Food System Field Trip.

“What did we get ourselves into?” Hailee and Alysa on the road during the Food System Field Trip.

Hailee was one of two youths selected to participate in the 2014 Youth Summer Internship Program hosted by the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and Madison Farm to Fork. Her goal for participating in the internship was to learn new things. In their summer of examining community-based food systems, Hailee and her co-intern, Alysa Fugal, got hands-on  experience about what it takes to get food from seed to table.

In the Dirt
Hailee and Alysa spent much of their time at the Madison Farm to Fork greenhouse indoor and outdoor garden learning about seeding, growing, maintaining crops, and harvesting produce. This first stop in the life of a fruit or vegetable provided some insight into the challenges faced by growers. Hailee noted that early mornings at the greenhouse were easy because it was cool, but the work got more difficult as afternoon temperatures rose. Wrestling with a broad fork to turn the soil in garden beds was another struggle. Despite the fact that their friends may not think that such work is fun, Hailee and Alysa assert that gardening is really a “TON OF FUN!” Alysa also noted  the value of growing food on a local level. “You know where your food is coming from, it travels a shorter distance, and there is less chance you will get anything bad in it,” she says.

Hard at work harvesting peppers!

Hard at work harvesting peppers!

To Market, To Market
While growing produce led to plenty of insight and adventure, these young women also got to see   the effort that goes into processing food once it is harvested. The interns visited the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan to get an idea of how processing whole foods into usable products works, as well as the policies in place to ensure food safety. The interns also spent time at Banditos, an Ennis restaurant that regularly purchases from Madison Farm to Fork, processing vegetables they grew in the greenhouse. They worked at the local farmers market, and helped prepare senior meals using local ingredients at the North Valley Food Bank in Whitefish. As a culminating event, Hailee and Alysa spent a day at the Ennis school commercial kitchen processing an entire year’s worth of “fajita veggie mix” for the school district from onions they harvested at the Madison Farm to Fork greenhouse and peppers they harvested at Harlequin Produce in Arlee.

Processing peppers. So many fajitas!

Processing peppers. So many fajitas!

Futures in Food?
While Alysa says gardening provides an outlet for “decompressing” from the rest of the world, and Hailee hopes to use the garden as a place to express creativity in the future, they aren’t planning on growing food as a career. But with their new perspective of all that goes into putting meals on our plates, we’ll likely find them somewhere further along the food route: Hailee really enjoys the creative aspect of cooking, while Alysa loves baking and entertains the idea of owning her own bakery someday. A spatula can be slightly easier to handle than a broad fork, after all, and is also necessary in getting delicious food to the table!

This internship was partially made possible through generous support from Montana Farmer’s Union. A big thank you to Demetrius Fassas, Jeremy Drake, Janet Dochnahl, and all the community partners for making this pilot project possible! To learn more about the vision for this program, please visit http://www.madisonfarmtofork.com/mf2fncat-summer-internship.html