Montana youth are changing the way they think about food and choosing to lead their communities toward a healthier food system.

That, in a nutshell, is what we learned recently from 34 attendees of the 2013 Growing Leaders Youth Summit who took a moment to let us know what they have been up to since the summit.

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Whitefish High School students at the PEAS Farm during the 2013 Growing Leaders Youth Summit.

Here are just some of the ways Montana youth are taking action:

Spreading the word!
Youth Summit attendees are talking with others about the potential of local food.
Thirty-three attendees reported that they had shared their experiences at the summit with at least 4 people including family, friends, students, teachers, school food service staff, school administrators, and other community members. One youth from Billings Senior High told us, When we got back from our trip, we put together a presentation for anyone who was interested. We presented to our whole class and then we had a ‘lunch and learn’ in which over 30 people attended. They were very interested and wanted to learn more. It was super fun and gave everyone there a new perspective on Farm to Cafeteria ideas.”

Building awareness!
Youth Summit attendees are inviting their peers to think about food systems.
Thirty-two attendees reported that they had engaged in at least 3 conversations about food systems since the summit. A youth from Big Sky High School in Missoula told us, “My science teacher talked about (food systems) in class and I felt it was necessary to join the conversation. I have also asked some of my friends if they really know where their food comes from and how far it has to travel to get here.” The adults that support these young leaders are doing their part as well: Whitefish High School students can now enroll in an interdisciplinary global food systems course developed by a teacher who attended the Youth Summit.

Creating networks!
People made lasting connections at the Youth Summit.
Twenty-three attendees reported keeping in touch with people they met there. One youth is now fulfilling school community service hours at Purple Frog Gardens in Whitefish after a meeting at the summit. And a teacher from Northern Cheyenne Tribal Schools in Busby, who is planning a greenhouse project to supply a year-round school salad bar, told us, “I just want to stay informed with ideas and projects that may help our school have a successful outcome.”

Improving schools and communities through food!
Youth Summit attendees are spearheading efforts in their schools and communities to connect with good, local food.
Here are just two examples: A youth from Flathead High School in Kalispell told us, “When we got back to our school after the summit we started a garden club and are working on starting a school garden.” While an adult from the Montana Farmers Union in Great Falls told us, “I am working with our local school district to include school gardens and their produce into the lunch and class rooms.”

If you, or someone you know, would like to learn more about youth-led projects and activities that are bringing Montana communities together around healthy, local food or would like to get involved in the Growing Leaders Youth Initiatives, please contact Jeremy Drake at jeremyd@ncat.org.

In case you haven’t heard about the 3-day Growing Leaders Youth Summit produced in Missoula last October by the Farm to Cafeteria Network, a project of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, check out the movie.