Community Building Initiatives: From Building a Stronger Bitterroot to Mayday Gardens

You may have heard about or participated in the ‘Building a Stronger Bitterroot’ series. Our first event was an all-day community round table held in January 2019. We then continued holding gatherings monthly, following the Societal Transformation Lab series materials. A set of research tools and activities offered through the Presencing Institute at M.I.T. that allow inquiry for profound social and organizational change. We have several people in the Bitterroot trained in these tools to facilitate community-wide conversations. At the final ‘Building a Stronger Bitterroot’ event, three main interest themes emerged: School Food, Veterans’ Housing, and Community Meals.

The ‘Reimagining School Lunch Innovation Lab was created to follow the food, using the

the guiding question of: ‘What If we fed Bitterroot Valley kids all Montana grown foods?!’. With

inspiration and consultation from Marian Goodman of the Presencing Institute and her work with food systems change in Brazil,this year-long, four-part inquiry launched in November 2019.

Part One of the series was about discovery, seeing, and sensing the current school lunch food system. Many important pieces of information rose out of the conversations, including the

realization that we needed to find ways to get kids familiar with the foods we can grow locally-

things like kale and lentils. The 55 participants represented school lunch cooks, school board

members, teachers, parents, supporters, and a student. They left with homework. Participants

were asked to do a stakeholder interview or learning journey, as their entrance ticket into Part

Two, which was planned as a 1 ½ day-long retreat in April 2020 at a coveted local private hot springs. (New participants were invited to Part Two with two pieces of homework as entrance.)

When the world started its change and Part Two was rescheduled to the fall of 2020 in hopes we could meet in person by then, the project was able to pivot and prototype a look at our question of how to start introducing local kids to local vegetables. The ‘Mayday Gardens’ project was created and originally offered 108 free, ready-to-plant gardens to families and new growers (we ended up providing 125 gardens as the demand was greater than expected). Since the demand for the spring gardens grew beyond what had been seeded, we added 150 Summer Mayday Gardens that will be ready for distribution in June. These food plant collections include vegetables such as kale, chard, cabbage, lettuce, and beans, as well as edible herbs/flowers, and sunflowers.

Reimagining School Lunch has been renamed ‘Reimagining School Lunch and the Rest of Your

World, Too!’. The updated guiding question is ‘What If We Created Something New,

Together?!’. The original Part Two is still rescheduled for mid-October while a new monthly zoom

mini-retreat series has been kicked off. These two-hour gatherings each teach one concept

from the U-Lab/S-Lab materials. The hope is to keep people engaged and to grow individual

capacity for Presencing into change, which will help us move back into Part Two this fall. You can read more about the Reimagining School Lunch initiates, the history of the project, resources or find out how to join in a mini-retreat or Part Two event at:

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175 Skalkaho Hwy, Hamilton, MT 59840