Hi! My name is Nicki Jimenez and I graduated from Denison with a B.A. in Environmental Studies in 2012.
I did a self-designed concentration in Environmental Politics. On campus, I co-founded PEAS (People Endorsing Agricultural Sustainability) and co-led the Green Team. I also served on the Campus Sustainability Committee while we wrote the Campus Sustainability Plan and I led the startup of the senior apartment composting system. I was a Morris K. and Stewart L. Udall Scholar in 2010.
Inspired by what I learned from my ENVS professors, I decided to pursue grassroots changemaking and since August 2012, I have been a FoodCorps service member. FoodCorps is an AmeriCorps national service program that connects kids to real food and helps them grow up healthy. FoodCorps service members are placed with a local school or organization to teach kids about healthy food, build and tend school gardens, and get local food into school meals. The ENVS class of 2012 has a strong presence in FoodCorps as alumnus Kyle Plummer is a service member in Maine this year!
I have been serving with Lake County Community Development Corporation’s Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center (MMFEC) in Ronan, MT. I focus on helping western Montana school districts source local food and I teach about healthy, Montana-grown foods in elementary school classrooms.
My service site has unique infrastructure: MMFEC is a food processing facility partnered with the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC). I help build the relationship between schools and WMGC. Through WMGC, schools can access the volume of produce they need, and MMFEC can process it, making it possible for them to use the local food. We work with four districts to source weekly local snacks through the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program (FFVP). FFVP snacks are served in the classroom, providing a perfect opportunity for education. I have make connections with teachers and engage their classes in active, fun lessons to give kids positive experiences trying new foods.
A highlight of my service involved beets (which would be no surprise to anyone who participated in slow food dinners in PEAS’ first few year). This winter, I developed new beet products to meet schools’ needs: frozen raw beet cubes and roasted beet cubes. I worked with the grower’s co-op to source the beets, school food service to make orders, food processing staff to test and process the beets, and teachers to offer lessons about beets. A local farmer and I taught ten classes on beet snack day: we showed the kids how beets grow and did a little beet math. Then we cheered “we love remolacha” (that’s “beet” in Spanish) and tasted the beets. Kids who might have shied away from trying a scary, new vegetable raved, or at least joined the “two bite club.” MMFEC’s video, “Local Farms, Local Kids,” illustrates this whole process of farm to school. Watch it here.
I want to help grow local economies, increase sustainable agriculture and provide access to healthy, local foods by helping build this infrastructure.
I know I’m making a difference when kids excitedly ask me what we’re trying when I come into the classroom. Or when they still talk about the potatoes we ate three weeks ago. But I also know I’m making change at a higher level. MMFEC has generated revenue from farm to school and will be paying staff to do this work, and the two districts I serve will host the FoodCorps service member next year. My service has convinced the schools this is important and the next FoodCorps service member will be able to have deeper relationships with kids about food and make more change in the school food culture.
My dream for the future is to develop producer cooperatives and/or food hubs. Local aggregation, distribution and processing has been crucial in enabling farm to school in my region. I want to help grow local economies, increase sustainable agriculture and provide access to healthy, local foods by helping build this infrastructure. This is still in the distance: next year, I will be continuing with FoodCorps as the Fellow in Arizona. I will live on the Fort Apache Indian Reservation and support members serving in native communities around the state. I’m excited about this next opportunity to learn, grow and serve.
If you’re interested in learning more about FoodCorps and my service, check out FoodCorps Montana’s blog and Facebook page. Sending love to Denison from western Montana!