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GRANTSDALE – Laura Garber couldn’t get free for even a couple of seconds on Wednesday to eat for herself, as she was so busy dishing out heaping second helpings of kale chips, baked cauliflower with tumeric, fresh-squeezed cherry juice soda, cucumbers and organic, gluten-free sausage pizza to the hungry kids lined up in her kitchen.

The beauty was that the kids had helped harvest the food for the meal.

Garber, who manages Homestead Organics Farm on the Skalkaho Highway south of Hamilton with her husband Henry Wuensche, hosted the Sprouts Camp for local elementary students all last week. The camp is a program of the Hamilton-based nonprofit Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources summer camp.

“I barely got the word ‘pizza’ out of my mouth before the kids were lining up yesterday with their plates,” Garber said. “Even the kids that don’t usually like vegetables were trying everything.”

The kids spent all week working on the farm, milking goats, feeding chickens, harvesting vegetables and picking weeds.

According to camp counselor Angela Dondero, the goal of the camp is to get kids to be more connected with where the food on their lunch plates comes from.

“They spend the whole week working on the farm, doing chores,” she said. “We want them to make the connection of where food comes from. This morning, we’re going out to weed the carrots. We feed them lunch, too, and everything is from the garden. We have them try everything. So even if a kid says, ‘Ewww, I don’t like zucchini’, we tell them they have to try everything. They are surprised at how good it is.”

“They spend a week learning what it’s like to be a farmer, understanding how food grows, caring for animals and enjoying life on the farm,” said BEAR program director Lindsey Dickes.

The kids divided up into two teams, The Spiderpigs and Team Inferno, to go out and cull weeds from the rows of carrots. The weeds are then fed to the chickens and turkeys on the farm.

Later in the day, they got to play with the young goats on the farm, chasing them from one end of a field to the other.

“My favorite one is called ‘Lucky’ because he was in the irrigation ditch when they found him, so he’s lucky to be alive,” said 8-year-old Fern Stewart. “He’s really playful.”

Wuensche said that he and his wife’s goal is not only to build a completely self-sustaining farm, but to pass along the importance of connecting with the land with the younger generation. That’s why they donate their time and energy into teaching the kids about what they do.

“We want to teach them about shaping the land and being good stewards,” he said. “We are not farming just for us. It’s for our kids and their grandkids. They are little seeds, that grow up to be plants, and they benefit from the knowledge.”

Many kids in urban areas have no idea even where their milk comes from, Wuensche said, which is why Montana kids are so lucky to live close to agriculture.

“Most people see just dirt, but it’s really Earth,” said Wuensche, picking up a handful of dark soil near where he was planting peach trees. “Our goal is to make the land healthier, not just for us, but for animals, too. We didn’t have any American goldfinches here last year, and now they are all over.”

For Garber, the satisfaction comes when she sees the kids learning to appreciate the fruits of their labor.

“A couple of them have already told me they want to be farmers,” she said.

Fore more information on the BEAR program, visit bearoutdooradventures.com/index.html.

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Reporter David Erickson can be reached at david.erickson@ravallirepublic.com.

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