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HAMILTON – Partnerships are blossoming at Homestead Organics Farm.

Five of the partnerships last week involved community youth: Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resource Farm Camps, Farm Camp interns, Cultivating Connections youth interns, Linda Massa Youth Home youth workers and a MAPS Media Institute team.

Bitterroot Ecological Awareness Resources and Homestead Organics have held a farm camp for the past five years. This year B.E.A.R. had 11 campers, five intern counselors, one head counselor and two support staff from Homestead Organics Farm.

Val Aerni, program coordinator for B.E.A.R., said the Farm Camps are a perfect fit to inspire youth.

“Homestead Organics Farm owners Laura Garber and Henry Wuensche are fantastic people who truly care about sharing their love of farming and community with the kids,” Aerni said. “The farm is a great place for kids to explore and to create all sorts of connections, whether that is with the land, their peers, or with their own potential.”

Garber said the Farm Camp interns learned information about the farm so they could teach the B.E.A.R. campers this week.

“Last week they got used to the farm and found things to do with the B.E.A.R. campers,” she said. “They also did work so they know how a basic farm works and can share that with the campers.”

Aerni said these trained interns lead activities, support the youth and develop their leadership skills as assistant camp counselors.

“Mike DeLue, our program leader, is at the camp to help ensure that all of the activities run smoothly and to support the interns and as they as they share our mentoring philosophies with the kids,” Aerni said. “The main philosophies to be shared are called strengths-based mentoring and challenge by choice. Strengths-based mentoring focuses on the positive aspects of a person and their actions, rather than their challenges. Challenge by choice is a philosophy that ensures that youth feel supported and safe as they try new activities that may be outside of their comfort zone.”

B.E.A.R. counselor-interns Kennidi Wanner and Maegan Bjerke said they like being with kids and being outside.

“Our goal is to inspire kids to go outside and be more active in their communities,” Wanner said.

“I enjoy watching the kids have fun while being at the farm and helping out,” Bjerke said. “At the end of the week they’ll all say they had a great time working and that it was completely different from what they expected. It is getting your hands dirty and playing in the dirt.”

This week the campers were active. They played with chickens and goats, moved turkeys, swam in a pond, played games, helped with farm projects and created art. They also harvested kale for the farmers market, harvested their own food and enjoyed homegrown meals with their fellow campers.

On Tuesday, B.E.A.R. program leader Mike DeLue said the week was going smoothly.

“The kids seem to be having a lot of fun,” DeLue said. “They are doing work, art projects, building a teepee and playing games. They are enjoying it and learning about farm work. My job is to make sure the kids are always safe.”

Charlie Breiner, 11, said he was enjoying the camp.

“I really like swimming,” he said. “I like the goats and the chicks best. I recommend other kids to come to this camp but they need to know the water in the pond is really cold.”

Cultivating Connections youth internships were also underway.

“We have eight girls that will be here every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday this summer,” Garber said. “Their purpose is to learn about farming and grow food for the Meals on Wheels program. We teach them and each week we bring in guest speakers.”

The guest speaker on June 22 was Montana State University Ravalli County Extension Agent Katrina Mendrey, who shared information on soil types, weeds, plant identification, insects and composting.

“This is an organic farm. We have to think about how we will manage the farm,” Mendrey said. “The cycle of things and decomposition can make nutrients available again to the plants.”

Cultivating Connections youth internships’ Andrea Williams said she is learning by doing.

“We’re growing organic food and we are learning by working the entire farm,” Williams said. “I like this because I was taking care of my grandma and she didn’t eat well and we tried to get her to eat healthier. This way I can contribute to other elderly people by giving them fresh homegrown vegetables. I like planting the plants and visiting the goats.”

Intern Grace Kemp said she enjoys gardening that is helping the community.

“I’ve always wanted to do something for the community because my mom has always worked with the community and showed me how important it is to be involved,” she said.

Henry Madeen said he values the idea of teaching young kids.

“Most kids think their food comes from the grocery store,” Madeen said. “I think it is important to teach them about fresh food and how nice it is. It is a fun way to teach them. It isn’t in a classroom.”

Youth who live at the Linda Massa Youth Home come each Tuesday to do farm work, pet the goats, canoe on the pond and learn about life.

“They are a big help and do so much here and in the community,” Garber said.

The MAPS Media Institute team of Lucas Laparra, director of photography, and Rebecca Fawns, audio technician, was recording the presentation by Mendrey and the work by the youth interns to raise fresh produce for senior citizens receiving Meals on Wheels. They will combine this with interviews of interns and senior citizens to make a video for the Meals on Wheels program.

“We follow the interns through their 11-week program,” Laparra said. “We started with them planting the seeds, weeding and learning. We’ll follow them through harvest and delivery to the Meals on Wheels program. The video will show how these interns are developing as farmers and in agriculture because we don’t have much of that in the next generation.”

Laparra said the goal is to have people eating healthier food.

“It is to have the younger generation helping the older generation through this program of Cultivating Connections,” he said. “We go in, video tape, find the story and then we’ll put it all together.”

Fawns said the media team is making several videos for posting on the Homestead Organics page, MAPS’ page and Vimeo.

Homestead Organics is a busy place, with drop-in visitors, customers to their farm stand and the construction of the poultry facility nearing completion. They have a community-supported agriculture program and booths at both the Hamilton and Missoula Saturday farmers markets. They also participate in a seed co-op and keep busy through Dec. 15. Garber said Homestead Organics Farm has time off in January.

Homestead Organics Farm is located at 175 Skalkaho Highway, south of Hamilton.

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Reach reporter Michelle McConnaha at 363-3300 or michelle.mcconnaha@ravallirepublic.com.

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