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Seeds of change begin with fresh food

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ARLEE – Finding the time to prepare a healthy meal can be difficult after a long day of work, taking care of kids, or other responsibilities, so a group in Arlee got together to learn a few skills to make the process easier.

“We’ve learned some things to help us think ahead, tools to help work with our busy lives, so we don’t end up getting pizza for dinner,” said Makenzie Felsman, participant. 

The Arlee Community Development Corporation sponsored the project with funding from donations. A community-based survey found that people wanted more healthy options for food with fresh produce and cooking skills, so several projects are being developed around that need including cooking classes and gardening boxes. The idea was focused on combining convenience with food sovereignty values like healthy food, cultural considerations and sustainability. 

“We wanted to help people realize how much cheaper clean eating is and how much better it is for you,” said Addie McMurry, participant.

An electric pressure cooker pot is the secret to quickly preparing meals with fresh ingredients. The group learned to quickly chop and prepare food ahead of time – making it available so that within minutes they can add the ingredients to the pot and wait. 

“This lets you make dinner a lot faster and cuts the cooking time down,” said Angie Lux, participant. “It’s much easier after a long day.”

The group utilized the kitchen at the Indian Senior Center once a week for three weeks to make several meals with fresh ingredients. They learned how to quickly make nutritious food like bison stew. On Wednesday, April 18, Jenny Fowler led a class based on making a “Spring Tonic Soup” with a recipe she adapted. 

“I love to take ancestral food and make it contemporary,” she said. 

Fowler added water to the pot, onion, leeks, garlic, lemon zest, carrots, celery, and mushrooms. The recipe calls for burdock root, but that isn’t in season, so she used sliced parsnip. Nettle tea was substituted for fresh nettle, and dandelion root was replaced by kale. Micro green sprouts were used instead of lamb’s quarter, and rice was added to the dish. Once the ingredients were in the pot, the timer was set and everything was done in about 15 minutes. 

“It’s a good soup after a long winter,” Fowler said.

The CDC provided each participant with an Instant Pot so they can quickly make the fresh meals at home. Plans are being developed to continue the classes with a focus on a different food based skill, maybe canning. 

The other part of the project, with a different set of participants, centered around gardening. Last year, 15 small garden boxes were given out in the community to get people to start growing sustainable healthy food. The Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes provided a grant for the first year of the program. 

Another 15 boxes are being given out again this year with donation funding. The boxes will be delivered in May to people already on the list. “People can sign up to get one next year if they are interested,” said Rod Davis, project volunteer.

Davis, who is retired from the MSU Extension Office, said he still loves teaching people about gardening, so he helps with the project. 

“Folks see gardening as a mystery, and think you have to have a green thumb to do it, but you don’t. People really can learn to do this for food sovereignty and to supplement their diets.”

Davis said gardening is a learned skill. “It’s like driving a car,” he said. “Anyone can do it. Although, if you don’t stop at a stop sign you won’t be successful, which could be comparable to not watering the garden.”

He wants the garden boxes to inspire more people to try growing fresh produce. “I haven’t seen many gardens in the past 10 to 20 years, but I hope that changes,” he said.

Davis believes gardening will catch on once people find out “how incredibly satisfying it is to go out outside and cut a fresh head of broccoli from your own garden.” 

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