Our local land gives back in more ways than one
Since the moment those first shoots poked through the ground at the PEAS Farm in 2002, the 10 acres of productive farm land have been providing the Missoula community with sustenance for the heart, body, and mind.
An acronym for the Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society, the PEAS Farm hosts programs that combine traditional academics, therapy, and agriculture. Schoolchildren learn where food comes from through the Farm-to-School program, troubled teens receive guidance and discover the joy of altruism through the Youth Harvest Project, university students get a comprehensive education in farming, and members of the community feast on the crops grown here through CSA (community-supported agriculture) shares.
In 2001, Josh Slotnick, director of the PEAS Farm, worked with members of the community and the university to move the farm from a small plot of university land at Fort Missoula to its current location on Duncan Drive. Today, it is a partnership between Garden City Harvest (GCH), the University of Montana, the Missoula County Public School District, and the City of Missoula. He’s seen firsthand as a lecturer for UM’s Environmental Studies program how a small group of students can become a community within themselves.
“Every year I get to see 15 people kind of fall in love with each other,” he said.
The sprawl of fertile land is one of four neighborhood farms under the umbrella of GCH, whose mission is to build community through agriculture. These neighborhood farms grow food for low-income residents and emergency food shelters as well as provide job training and life skills to Missoula’s youth, all of which is mainly accomplished through three distinct programs. Let’s learn about them!
Amy Harvey, the Farm-to-School gardens manager, describes this program as one that encourages youth to explore connections between food, agriculture, science, and their everyday lives. This is accomplished by hosting field trips to the farm and the Little PEAS summer camps, where students learn that food doesn’t originate in a box on a grocery store shelf. Aside from the chance to revel in the fun of getting their hands dirty, children are met with the opportunity to witness how these outings integrate all areas of academics, from science to math to history. “Our Farm-to-School programs offer unique learning environments where science concepts come to life in a living laboratory,” she said.
Youth Harvest Project
Each year, approximately 15 young people are referred to the Youth Harvest Project through Youth Court, Willard Alternative High School, and other avenues. During the summer program, they handle all facets of farming from planting to harvest to preparation. Twice a week, they bring what they have grown to the Missoula Food Bank and run the Mobile Market, a traveling farmers market that sells discounted locally grown produce to low-income senior residences. Through this program, at-risk youth learn vital life skills such as money handling and customer service, but just as important, they find a sense of worth and community. Tami McDaniel, the Youth Development director, has seen this success when the young people interact with the seniors. “Shoppers engage with the youth, whether it be over what to do with a kohlrabi or sharing a story from their life. I believe the sense of feeling seen, heard, and valued is mutual and reciprocal between our youth and the community members they interact with,” said Tami.
Environmental Studies Program
The study of agriculture intensifies for university students participating in the farm internship through the Environmental Studies program (EVST) at the University of Montana. Spring and fall classes are offered but it is during the summer semester that students learn all aspects of running a farm. Sustainable solutions to practical farming issues like weed control and irrigation are explored. On Fridays, the students take a field trip to local farms and ranches to learn how others have found solutions to agricultural issues.