Montana Summer 1 Recap

Teen Service Program Highlights

We took the leap, and 30 adventurous teens took the leap with us. July marked a memorable and monumental program for VISIONS, as we shifted from primarily international service programs to an experience in our backyard of Gallatin Valley, Montana. This inaugural program home base was on a small farm, and socially distanced service projects took place throughout the valley. Work highlights included sustainable farming and regenerative ranching activities, permaculture, volunteering at the Food Bank, packaging books for distribution to Montana reservations, and site preparations at a local cohousing neighborhood.

VISIONS has been based in Bozeman for the past decade, and was previously headquartered in Central Pennsylvania for 20+ years. Our roots actually go back to the early 1970s, when a few New York friends and educators relocated to a rural Pennsylvania farm to establish a hands-on learning program centered around farming activities for teens. Many summers in this farm setting taught our founders that teens thrived while living and working towards a common goal. Kids loved the camaraderie, physical labor and shared sense of purpose. The concept of VISIONS sprang from this knowledge—teenagers want to be part of something bigger and are motivated  to work hard to meet big goals. VISIONS was founded in 1988, expanding hands-on farming work to volunteering in under-resourced communities in the U.S. and abroad.

While we look forward to the day when we can return to our friends and partners at our other program sites that were cancelled due to the pandemic, we were uplifted by the opportunity to return to our roots of connection to the land and food sources. This shift feels particularly relevant now, in an era when we face not only the challenges brought on by climate change, but also assess our relationship with the land and planet that supports us. Food security and food sourcing are key components, and VISIONS students had the opportunity to witness first hand what it means to produce food that maintains resilience and is in harmony with the ecosystem. (And thereby, hopefully encouraging more harmony with ourselves and each other, realizing that they are, in fact, inextricably linked.)

Our students learned about regenerative agriculture practices at a cattle ranch in the Paradise Valley; volunteered at permaculture farms and took a permaculture workshop; and weeded, planted and harvested midsummer garlic (the bigger harvests take place this fall, during our gap program). And of additional merit, teens also traveled to a bison ranch to witness the harvesting and field dressing of a bison. To bring it full circle, much of the high quality meat served to students during the program was sourced from a bison from this ranch (a few venturesome kids boldy cooked up heart, liver and tongue for the final cookout!).

When participants weren’t busy at work projects, they took advantage of outdoor activities under Montana’s big sky, including a two-night backpacking trip, swimming in mountain lakes, hikes to waterfalls, and enjoying good times around our homebase with games of volleyball, roasting marshmallows by the fire, and enjoying one another’s company. 

COVID protocols abounded leading up to and during the program, so a celebratory party was in order at the two-week “covid-free” mark, when masks could mostly be relinquished and pods could meld into one large, happy COVID-free bubble. (Before that, masks were worn in vehicles and when 6’ distances couldn’t be maintained, but the outdoor setting of the program meant that masks did not need to always be worn.)

These are unusual times, but it is also an opportunity for community, gratitude and joy…all of which were plentiful throughout the program. VISIONS is now into our second high school summer session that takes place for 21 days in August.

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