Milltown Community Garden Grows Volunteers

Story by Anna Penner-Ray

"I was the AmeriCorps Summer VISTA Associate for the Governor’s Office of Community Service. I moved to Helena from Colorado at 13, and I’m a senior at the University of Montana in Missoula; studying broadcast production.

Back in June, I traveled with my VISTA supervisor Julia to Milltown, Missoula, and Arlee to visit community gardens, food banks, and to talk about volunteerism.

Milltown GardenAt the Milltown Garden Patch, students from the AWARE program at Bonner Elementary pull weeds and pick fresh vegetables, as they do every Wednesday from 11am to 3pm. The students range in age from kindergarten to eighth grade. Tiffany Bartolomei runs the AWARE program at Bonner Elementary. AWARE is a non-profit organization that provides services to people with disabilities-mental, physical, and emotional- who wouldn’t otherwise be served.

In their 2 plots, the students planted cabbage, lettuce, carrots, herbs, tomatoes, peppers, broccoli, eggplant, brussel sprouts, squash, zucchini and onions. One girl dressed in pink said proudly that her favorite vegetable was peas; another stated that she liked “carrots! But only with ranch.” A young boy shyly looked down at the ground, and then up as he smiled and said “I love broccoli now.”

The students weed their 2 plots weekly, count the rocks as they pick them up, and harvest vegetables to take home. Last year, an ice cream social fundraiser helped the kids learn social skills and raised $400 for the garden. The students also learn about responsibility, nutrition, and the power of growing your own food. The kids learn to be outgoing, many gardening skills, and the strength to persevere in the face of resistance. From sprouts in the ground to fully-grown vegetables and eat-off-the-vine peas, the kids get to see things through to the end.

Veteran Billy Izzard started this non-profit, organic garden in 2010. He has said “I asked myself what can I do, as small as I am, to make a difference before I croak. There was a bunch of land sitting there, doing nothing, and a lot of kids in our community don’t know where their food is coming from.” The Water Users Association owns the land that the garden was built on. They charge Billy $1 per year for renting the land, and donate the water for free.

The garden has tall fence to keep the deer out, a pumpkin patch, a play area with a see-saw and tire sandboxes, different sizes of garden plots, and a variety of vegetables. The garden gave 179 pounds of food to the Missoula food bank last year!

“We've turned what was for years an unused parcel of land located in Milltown into a cultivated and productive community area. Our ongoing goal is to create an environment in which interested residents of the Milltown/Bonner/Riverside/East Missoula community can grow their own organic produce and create a ‘cash crop’ which will give us the opportunity to give back to the community, by way of donations to local food banks.” –Milltown Garden Patch mission statement

People can volunteer their time for free vegetables or buy a plot. You can find out more information about the Milltown Garden Patch at http://www.milltowngardenpatch.org/"

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