Combining Education with Production to Empower the Future
A Frenchtown School District Partnership
It started with one man's passion that took root.
Enhance local food security by demonstrating sustainable food production methods and providing opportunities for hands-on learning. We strive to teach resilience to food scarcity through eco-conscious educational programs about growing, preserving and storing food.
In 2013, Heath N. Carey had an idea. It started one evening when his friend, holding a planting tray Heath had just given him, looked at Heath with no idea what to do next. Until that moment, it had never occurred to Heath that everyone did not have the basic knowledge of how to plant a seed, grow a plant, and harvest their food. Thus the idea to teach the public how to grow food and live more sustainably became a mission and Freedom Gardens was born.
Heath grew up and learned the basics of earth science on 280 acres of Pennsylvanian deciduous forest. It wasn’t until 2005, after moving to Montana to receive his M.S. in Resource Conservation, that he would put those basics together to form a solid understanding of the relationships between ecosystems, man, and climate. This education opened up a Pandora’s
box, so to speak, shining light on the emergency of educating the public on topics that could
prepare them for the potential changes on the horizon.
The strength of a community lies in itsability to sustain itself and sustainability begins with the very basics - food, water, clothing,shelter. As an avid outdoorsman, Heath focused of the food and water aspect, founding Freedom Gardens in 2013 and facing adversity and challenges for 4 years before finding a home for the nonprofit in 2017 and building the 3,200 square-foot learning greenhouse in 2018.
Freedom Gardens and the education it provides matters, because change is coming whether people wish to acknowledge it or not. Unfortunately, those that will face the greatest challenges and burdens are the youngest among us. Freedom Gardens matters because it arms those individuals with the knowledge and technical skill set necessary to grow food and live sustainably in the face of climate change. Couple this with the fact that the average age of a US food grower is over 60 and it becomes clear why this model and its implementation throughout the country is so important.
Even now, as of writing this, the mid-west US and the surplus of sugar beets it is known for has succumbed to climate change, with the US opening sugar imports for the first time in 40 years. This is a the beginning of a growing change and we, like the sugar beets, can either succumb to the changes of climate or we can dig in our heels, educate our youth, and prepare appropriately for the inevitable changes before us. We are the warriors of the future.
At present, the greenhouse provides all of the lettuce consumed by Frenchtown School District. Heath is continuing to increase the production capacity of the greenhouse by including a micro green growing scenario, donated by Caleb Smith of Newline Microgreens, that will provide nutrient-packed micro greens to the staff and students of Frenchtown, the Food Banks of Missoula, and select restaurants and grocery stores in our community. These growing projects will provide learning platforms for students of all ages, from the basics of seed sprouting to the advancement of business development and relations.
In addition, Heath hopes that this project will inspired students to think outside the cube - the box is modern agriculture,the box becomes squared when we exit modern agriculture and enter the technology of a year-round aquaponic greenhouse, and the box becomes a cube when the student imagine the next growing methods that we have not yet perceived. We’re not just growing produce in Frenchtown, we’re growing environmentalists!
Our blossoming community
Today, our greenhouse is fully functioning, allowing us to demonstrate the ideas we've worked so hard to get off the ground. In October 2019, we began serving greens in the Frenchtown School District cafeteria that had been grown right outside students' classrooms.
In Spring 2020, we'll be using the greenhouse as an active classroom, where teachers will implement custom lesson plans on everything from plant lifecycles to engineering systems. The sustainable features in our system open up the door for a diversity of programs applicable to all ages. We're even working to connect with the region's colleges and universities to open the doors to college-age students and their professors to bring our education initiatives to the next level.
We are grateful for all the support we've received from the community thus far - and are optimistic about the support to come. If you'd like to help us continue to grow, check out opportunities to get involved or donate to the cause.