On a gray Saturday in November 2021, clients of All Nations Health Center received flu shots through their car windows as Squirrel Project teens loaded planter boxes into back seats, and ladled hot soup into to-go containers.

A collaboration that started last winter as a conversation between Garden City Harvest’s Youth Harvest Project alumni and All Nations Health Center staff, this drive-thru distribution event allowed folks to pick up a potato box or herb box in which to grow their own food at home. They were also offered a choice of hot soups: bison chili, pork pozole, and a lentil vegetable stew, all made with locally grown produce. 

All Nations Health Center provided the construction plans for the planter boxes, recipes, ground bison, and lumber (with some additional support from Lowe’s). Five Missoula teens employed by Garden City Harvest, through their Squirrel Project, learned and practiced construction and culinary skills.

In three weeks of after school and weekend programming, teens measured wood, practiced safe use of power tools, and worked together to construct 15 potato boxes and 15 herb boxes. On the culinary front, the youth built knife skills, worked from recipes, converted recipe quantities, bought groceries on a budget, and took the lead in cooking 150 servings of three different hearty and healthy soups! 

The Squirrel Project is an extension of Garden City Harvest’s Youth Harvest Project. The Youth Harvest Project hires teens to work in the spring, summer and fall farming seasons where they learn job and life skills on farms, at teen-run mobile market stands, and at the Missoula Food Bank.

Teens that show success through the growing season can stay on for an extra month to learn new skills and expand their connections in the greater Missoula community, while continuing personal development work, and staying true to Garden City Harvest’s mission to promote local food security. 

Bison chili made with Garden City Harvest grown squash, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and black beans. The only ingredient we bought was chili powder. (Courtesy photo)
Bison chili made with Garden City Harvest grown squash, onions, carrots, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, and black beans. The only ingredient we bought was chili powder. (Courtesy photo)

In addition to preparing for the All Nation’s drive-thru distribution, the teens completed a Food Handler’s Certification, and explored culinary creativity with a breakfast workshop led by local chef and longtime friend of Garden City Harvest, Christine Littig. The youth also cooked and served side dishes, made with produce they helped to grow at Garden City Harvest’s farms, for the Hope Rescue Mission’s Annual Holiday Meal.

One teen’s takeaway from her time with Squirrel Project was that she now truly feels her presence matters, that she’s not too small to make a difference, and that her contribution can create meaningful change in the community.

The collaboration and connection she experienced are important elements of building sustainable communities, at all levels. In connecting sustainably grown local food, to community healthcare, to youth empowerment, we have had the incredible opportunity to build a healthy Missoula, together.

For more information on Garden City Harvest visit their website www.gardencityharvest.org or call (406)-523-3663.

Marit Olson, Youth Harvest Project Coordinator, & Jean Zosel, Executive Director, Garden City Harvest

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. For more, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s WINTER Farmers Market continues in Southgate Mall, Saturdays 9am to 2pm. Until April 23. Also on Wednesdays 4:30- 7pm until Dec 22.

February 2.  Nuclear Energy for Montana ? (webinar). hosted by MT Renewable Energy Association. Part of a monthly series of webinars. First Wed at noon.

February 3. Climate Conversations Across Differences – Panel Discussion Thursday, 5:00-6:30 PM Register here

February 7. Public comments due on the Missoula Rattlesnake Valley Transportation Plan. Read the plan and submit comments here. 

February 9. "Don't Look Up" discussion: Imagine Nation Brewing, Wednesday 5:00-6:30 PM

February 12. Running Up for Air – Mt Sentinel. Runner’s Edge is sponsoring Montana’s participation in this 12, 6, and 3 hour event. And your participation supports Climate Smart’s effort for clean air. Learn more about this series here and sign up with Runner’s Edge here.

February 18 to March 3.  Big Sky Documentary Film Festival. Many films have environmental themes. Festival is in-person in Missoula Feb 18 to 27 and online Feb 21 to March 3.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month breakdown of world day campaigns.