by Nancy Moore, NCAT program specialist
We all hear it, all the time: “The trouble with kids these days is… ” This line is often followed by a string of complaints that detail the sense of entitlement and addiction to Facebook and other social media we often associate with the Millennial Generation. But what if that’s just not true? I’ve had the opportunity to work with young people from across Montana and I’m here to tell you: not only are many of them motivated, intelligent, and selfless— they’re here to make change.
Farm to Cafeteria Network, a program of the National Center for Appropriate Technology, or NCAT, has recently begun a Growing Leaders program— a network of Montana high school students who are concerned about food and healthy living. These young people bring up issues like genetically modified organisms, school lunch programs, lagging rural economies, and the general disconnect between people and the food on our plates. In addition to raising concerns, these students are also raising awareness and taking action to right some of the wrongs of our industrial food system.
A high school student once told me, “The thing about young people is that we don’t get easily discouraged. Adults automatically think, ‘No, that can’t be done,’ if it’s something that’s never been done before. But us- we think, ‘Hey! Maybe I can be the first person to do that! Let’s try it!’”
Perhaps that’s what Hellgate high school students were thinking a few weeks back when they approached Mannix Family beef about purchasing 500 burgers for their school’s end of the year picnic. The idea took off, and before long the student body was enjoying local, grassfed hamburgers on school property, for the first time.
Or maybe that’s what students in Bozeman were thinking when they dreamed up the Bozone Ozone Bus- aka BOB- in 2010. BOB is a greenhouse on wheels that runs on biodiesel and acts as a traveling classroom where teenagers teach elementary school students about growing food. It certainly hadn’t been done before, but young people in the Bozeman Youth Initiative made it happen. For the first time.
We heard even more inspiring examples of Montana’s teenagers doing amazing things food-related at the Youth Leadership Retreat that NCAT’s Farm to Cafeteria Network organized this past April. At the event, young people used presentations and videos to share their projects with an audience of peers and teachers. In Ravalli County, for instance, an after school group called “Community Cooking Connections” prepares and serves a delicious, FREE meal to community members every week. In Dillon, student cadets at Montana Youth Challenge Academy help grow food at UM Western’s garden while at the same time they discovered themselves growing. In Missoula, teens with Garden City Harvest’s program, “Youth Harvest,” sell fresh veggies at an affordable price to low-income senior citizens using a mobile market.
These examples and many more are proof that the millennial generation cares about healthy living and sustainably-grown food and they’re taking matters into their own hands. That’s why NCAT’s Farm to Cafeteria Network is organizing the first annual Youth Summit this September in Missoula. The Youth Summit is an opportunity for high school students from across the state to come together to share and learn about the importance of reconnecting with our food. Teenagers as well as adults working with youth are invited to participate in the event September 13-14.
At the Youth Summit you’ll have the chance to tour youth-led farms, school gardens, and kitchens serving local food; hear from out-of-state youth who use food as a vehicle for social change; and participate in sessions on topics ranging from permaculture to cultural cooking to GMOs. Above all, at the Youth Summit you’ll be able to connect with other people from across the state- both Millennials and adults working with Millennials- who know food matters and who want to create change. For more information about the Youth Summit and how to register, check out our website at www.farmtocafeteria.ncat.org. Again, that’s www.farmtocafeteria.ncat.org.
In Butte with the National Center for Appropriate Technology, I’m Nancy Moore for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. AERO has been linking people with sustainable agriculture and energy solutions since 1974. Visit us online at aeromt.org.
This commentary originally aired on June 20, 2013 on Montana Public Radio.