HELENA — As a biology and pre-med major at Carroll College, senior Andy Quinn isn’t usually outside gardening. The same goes for Kyla Dane, she’s a Carroll College senior on her way to becoming a physician assistant. But, both Quinn and Dane spent a good chunk of their Wednesday evening digging and raking dirt at the Helena Food Share Garden.
Quinn and Dane are part of Carroll College’s Gardening and Community Health class, led by Professor Gerald Schafer.
“We’re just getting to play in the dirt a little bit,” Quinn said. “As far as a college class goes, I cannot complain too much about it.”
Schafer teaches students in his class about crops that grow well in Helena’s often harsh environment, like kale, collards, arugula and spinach. Beyond learning about the crops, students also plant and care for them. For some students in the class, it’s their first food-growing experience.
“I have my house plants at home, but I’ve never learned to grow my own food or the things that we’re learning here,” Dane said. “All of this is totally new to me.”
Schfer’s students aren’t the only ones getting something out of the class, their work also benefits the Helena community. The Gardening and Community Health students prepared garden beds in the Helena Food Share hoop house, and translated some of their newly sprouted crops there.
The new high-tunnel greenhouse—or hoop house—provides an environment for plants to grow earlier in the season, and later into the fall.
“Helena Food Share needs more local food as well, more fresh food to distribute to their customers,” Schafer said.
The Carroll College students’ classwork will do just that—grow into fresh veggies for Helena Food Share to distribute.
“I’m not from Helena, so to be able to say that I left a little bit of a mark on Helena is a super fulfilling feeling,” Dane said.
Like Dane, Quinn isn’t from Helena either. He plans to take what he learns back home with him and start a similar program at a nursing home.
“My hope is to go back to Sheridan Wyoming, where I’m from, and start a program between the high schools,” Quinn said.
While gardening might not be typical work for Quinn and Dane, it’s work both say they’re proud of.
“It’s something that I can talk about years to come,” Dane said.
Carroll College students aren’t the only ones helping get fresh produce to Helena Food Share. According to Food Share officials, about 35,000 pounds of local, garden-grown produce is donated each year, and the Food Share garden grows about 1,000 pounds of produce per year.
Anyone is welcome to donate their garden-grown goods, just clean it beforehand so it’s shelf-ready for Food Share customers, then deliver it to the side entrance of the pantry at 1616 Lewis Street. Food Share can weigh the donation and provide a receipt for it.