Most everyone in Missoula has heard of PEAS Farm, though few can tell you what the name signifies. “Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society” Josh Slotnick explains. Josh has been affiliated with PEAS for over ten years, so he recalls.
PEAS is a ten acre farm northeast of downtown that fuses agricultural and social initiatives. The farm includes open fields, a greenhouse and two hoop houses. It grows food for a 100 member CSA as well as mobile markets that serve senior centers throughout Missoula and the local Food Bank. In addition, PEAS utilizes a diverse staff model that includes full-time employees, summer youth workers, interns from University of Montana Department of Environmental Education, and eight to ten at-risk youth who receive a stipend through the Missoula Drug Court Program.
I met with Josh at PEAS Farm on a sunny weekday morning. Other members of the farm joined in our conversation, as well as Genevieve Marsh, Marketing Manager, and Jean Zosel, Executive Director of Garden City Harvest, the umbrella organization that coordinates eighteen local food initiatives including school and neighborhood gardens. PEAS Farm is the largest and oldest component of Garden City Harvest’s efforts.
Jean explains, “What makes this place sing is the transformative effect of such diverse people meeting, and working, in agriculture.” The college interns may have never met kids with the problems the high schoolers face, who in turn haven’t been exposed to what college offers. The dirty hands work of drawing nourishment from the ground strips away those differences. Working the land is a great equalizer as well as an opportunity for young people who don’t find success in traditional learning environments to shine. “The kids that work through the Drug Court Program staff our mobile markets. It’s great to see how they bond with the seniors they meet every week.”
Garden City Harvest attributes its success to working flexibly across the entire community. CSA members are required to pick up their produce at PEAS Farm, so they understand the operation better and meet the people who grow their food. The School Department, Parks and Recreation, senior services, neighborhood groups, and local businesses all partner with Garden City Harvest in different ways. People choose to be involved for different reasons: to enjoy better food; create a greener world; or save money. From Genevieve’s perspective, it doesn’t matter what motivates people to participate. “Growing food empowers people. Everyone benefits as a result.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“Not how we live today. But if you look at recent history – two days ago – you get an idea. Missoula had this big storm. We had no power. Business ground to a standstill. But we rallied and got things up and running very quickly. We do not show foresight, but we are great in crisis. We cannot imagine a post-oil, post-grid world, but when that comes to pass, we will address it. “ Josh Slotnick
“That’s what we do here. We create the community that can deal with this.” Genevieve Marsh
“And we do it in the context of the other organizations in town. During the storm, the power companies brought in the resources and coordinated the effort. The community supported that. We work toward being well integrated.” – Jean Zosel