Two years of growing farm-to-school movement, Food Corps member says farewell

Food Corp member, Alyssa Charney gives one of her last lessons at the youth garden to a group from the Children's Center, as she finishes her two years of service in Red Lodge.

Not only a good friend, but also an inspiration to the community of Red Lodge, Alyssa Charney, Food Corps member, says ‘goodbye.’ After two years of hard-work and service, introducing various ways to encourage local foods in the schools, Charney leaves with a myriad of accomplishments for next Food Corps member, Emily Howe to continue. From starting Red Lodge’s first youth garden to a organizing a successful farm camp, in addition to the many more achievements Charney leaves behind, Howe will have quite the shoes to fill. Charney arrived in Red Lodge in 2011, with high hopes and the intent to further the communities’ understanding about the local farm to school movement, nutrition and the importance of local agriculture.

She had three goals in mind: to start a youth garden, bring local foods to the cafeteria and work directly in the classroom with students and teachers. Within two years, Charney, with help from the Red Lodge School District and Food Partnership Council saw all three to fruition. “I had a lot of fun. I hope that the kids will continue to get excited about eating healthy foods and growing foods and have a say in the process. I always wanted it to be something they wanted to do, rather than pressured to do. The biggest motivating factors were seeing the kids engaged and wanting to come back the next day,” Charney said.

Those who pass by the youth garden, located at the Old Roosevelt may have witnessed the accomplishments of Charney and volunteers, as the entire garden is flourishing with produce. At times, one could see Charney working with different children’s groups, teaching them about plants, compost and other garden topics, while creating a general interest about healthy foods in the young minds. Often the kids’ favorite part at the garden was taste testing Two years of growing farm-to-school movement, Food Corps member says farewell and identifying the new plants. “Overall the opportunity to work on a daily basis with such incredible and motivating people on a local a community level is wonderful. It’s great to so easily feel a part of a community and cross-collaborate with all different groups. I’m going to miss living in a beautiful place with great people,” Charney said.

By involving youth in process, Charney found them more likely to try foods they otherwise wouldn’t. During the winter, when the garden was covered with snow, Charney partnered with 1st and 3rd grade classes and held weekly cooking demonstrations, using healthy ingredients. Kale chips were often a popular item for kids, who at times brought the recipe home to share with their families.

Mr. Sager, whose 3rd graders often attended Charney’s healthy cooking demonstrations and were also very involved in the garden explained, “She introduced kids to different s t u f f t h e y n o r m a l l y wouldn’t have. She was very good about letting kids do the work and they were excited to do it. Alyssa taught them invaluable life lessons about where their food comes from and it was cool they got to see the process of watching things grow.”

Once Charney departs Aug. 12, new Food Corp member, Emily Howe will pick up where she left off, continuing to work with the schools and helping develop a procurement process that would further bring local foods into the schools on a routine basis. “I think there’s an exciting opportunity to develop the procurement side. There’s a lot of interest from producers and food service staff at all schools in the county. The challenge are the logistics and finding the best ways to distribute, store and price local food items,” Charney explained.

By reinforcing the momentum that Charney has instilled with students and teachers, she hopes the community and Howe can keep the local food movement going and growing. Originally from Boston, Charney will further her studies with a combined degree with a Masters in Public Health and Masters in Agriculture, Culture and Food Environment at the prestigious Tufts University. Post-graduation she plans to work towards encouraging agriculture and health policies at the federal level.

“I want to work to advocate for sustainable agricultural policies that fit the health of communities and the environment from the standpoint of non-profits and work to influence and shape federal policies,” Charney stated. From all of us in the community, we say farewell and good luck. Your smile, bouncy hair, and overall enthusiasm for local produce will be greatly missed. “She has so much experience in a vast way and she made it a point to do a lot of things. She leaves a really big hole,” said Polly Hawkings, who frequently worked with Charney in the garden and classroom on farm-to-school projects.