Shane Gehring clutched Waffles the chicken close to his chest as he began his presentation.
He held her tight, explaining to an audience that had settled onto hay bales in front of the PEAS Farm chicken coop that the position helps keep her comfortable. He talked about Waffles’ egg-laying habits, how she and the other hens contribute to the farm and about what they eat.
“Does anyone know why we feed them mussels (shells)?” he asked. “That’s right, it helps them lay strong eggs.”
A sophomore at Sentinel High School, Gehring knows a lot about chickens – and a lot about the hard work it takes to run a farm – thanks to a summer filled with work at Garden City Harvest’s PEAS Farm.
Gehring is one of five teens hired this year to take part in Garden City Harvest’s Youth Harvest project.
The Youth Harvest project is run in partnership with Missoula’s Youth Drug Court, Human Resource Council and Willard School. Some of the Youth Harvest members are referred through court, others through their teachers or counselors. All must apply and interview for the job.
“At the beginning of the year we planted, seeded and transplanted different vegetables. Now, we’re mostly into harvesting,” said crew member Jesse Linton, a junior at Willard who recommended Gehring apply as well.
As the produce is harvested, the Youth Harvest crew loads portions into the big red Mobile Market truck. It’s then sold at a discount price at places like the low-income Silver Crest Apartment community.
“It’s really nice to provide for those in need,” said crew member Devin Bond. “They love the vegetables we have. We give it to them for a really good price, for a really good reason.”
The “happy smiles” on clients’ faces bring Bond “pure joy.”
On Thursday, Mobile Market clients and program supporters were invited to the farm so the Youth Harvest crew could show them exactly where the produce they buy comes from.
Crew members manned several different stations around the farm and began their presentations.
Bond first told his audience – which included his counselor, Missoula District Judge John Larson and representatives from Youth Drug Court – about the farm’s pumpkin patch.
“We grow several varieties. We have some you can make into pumpkin spice for pumpkin pie,” Bond said.
He talked about the wide variety of flowers grown at the farm: “Flowers are here to attract bees. It’s an important step in the entire process. We are very thankful for them.”
Then, Bond talked about the “delicious,” “sweet and sugary” bush green beans: “I have a tendency to eat them while I’m harvesting them,” Bond said to his audience, who all got to try one.
Fred Anderson’s sister lives at the Silver Crest apartment complex where the Mobile Market stops.
“I pick up a few things occasionally,” Anderson said as he walked away from Bond’s presentation toward the PEAS Farm pigpen. “This is my first time here and it’s been really enjoyable. It has a lot of teaching aspects and the nutritional value is just unreal. Plus, it gives all these youth a place to intern.”
Anderson said there weren’t many questions the crew couldn’t answer.
Linton was “pretty nervous” during his presentation, which included a tutorial on the root cellar.
“They definitely asked questions that made you think,” he said.
Paulette Ferguson was another of four Youth Drug Court treatment team members on hand to watch the presentations. The team monitors some of the farm workers.
The program helps teach kids about hard work, and it gets them out into the community through the Mobile Market, Ferguson said.
“They like that interaction. And at least one of them has gotten into cooking,” she said.
The afternoon filled with presentations displayed the hard work the crew has put in throughout the season, and the knowledge they’ve gained. It also helped hone their public speaking skills. This is the ninth year the Youth Harvest project has been in operation, but the first time the presentation element was added.
Watching the presentations was a kind of full-circle moment for Youth Harvest project director Laurie Strand Bridgeman.
“I’m just so proud. We’ve just worked on so many of their skills for so long,” she said. “For them to take ownership, and see this process through ... I just find myself choking up.”