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Land to Hand celebrates new home at junior high

| October 5, 2022 7:55 AM

CHRIS PETERSON

Hungry Horse News

Beet hummus. Rhubarb mint lemonade. Potato salad. Pizza with squash.

Those were just some of the menu items last week as Land to Hand celebrated its new building and Wildcat Garden at the Columbia Falls Junior High School.

Earlier this year School District 6 donated one of its buildings at Glacier Gateway School to the nonprofit so it could have an office and storage space at the Garden, which it runs in addition to a host of school food programs.

While the building was free, the move came at considerable expense — about $130,000. But generous donations from Swank Enterprises, private donors and the Whitefish Community Foundation helped cover the costs.

When completely remodeled, the 1,400-square foot building will have a commercial kitchen so they can hold cooking classes there, noted Land to Hand executive director Gretchen Boyer.

Land to Hand is doing a world of good feeding children in the Columbia Fall and Canyon.

It currently serves about 350 students and families through its Weekend Backpack program, which helps students and families with meals over the weekend, when they don’t have access to things like free or reduced school lunches.

The organization also runs the Farmers Market Food For All program, which helps make fresh, local produce available to everyone regardless of income. These programs lower costs for families while supporting over 60 local farmers and food vendors.

In addition to youth, the organization also has programs for seniors on tight budgets through its Senior Coupon booklet program, which provides $30 booklets of coupons that can be spent like cash at local farmers markets.

The program helps seniors get fresh and local produce, and supports farmers as well.

The Wildcat Garden has also seen improvements under the leadership of Land to Hand. The garden started from humble beginnings 10 years ago as then school counselor Shari Johnson got some small grants and assistance from Montana State University to plant an orchard through the college’s cold zone research project.

Today, the orchard is thriving and the garden also contains a host of native plants as well as tons of vegetables and fruits, from raspberries to pumpkins and potatoes.

All told, about 1,300 students work in the garden every year noted Land to Hand educator Whitney Pratt.

In addition, they have an after school garden club, where about 16 students work in the garden after school, noted garden manager Holli Beams.

While the garden sees a lot of love and care, some crops do better than others, Beams noted. Broccoli is a challenge, as are melons.

This year, Beams and the kids put in a big patch of squash.

Land to Hand is always looking for volunteers and donations. To learn more, go to its website at: https://landtohandmt.org

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