Seeds of learning

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Greg Shaffer, president of the Whitefish Lions Club, recently received the Lions Club International President’s award for his work on the Farm to School program with Whitefish Middle School. (Daniel McKay/Whitefish Pilot)

Greg Shaffer quite literally isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty to make a difference.

Seven years ago Shaffer spearheaded the Farm to School program with the Whitefish Lions Club, helping seventh grade students plant vegetables before summer break and harvesting them the next year as eighth graders.

Shaffer recently received the Lions Club International Presidents award for his legacy project during the Lions Club district convention in Butte. It’s the second-highest award a Lion can receive, and comes after a nomination from the district president.

In a letter presented to Shaffer, Lions Club International President Naresh Aggarwal thanked him for his endeavors as a Lion.

“The international presidents award is an expression of our appreciation for your dedicated service to those in need. Your hard work and compassion serve as an example to the Lions community and the world around you. It’s encouraging to know that together we can accomplish so much,” the letter reads.

Shaffer said he was blindsided by the award.

“I was really rather surprised. It’s a great honor,” he said. “Although it was presented to me, it really needs to reflect all the hard work of the Whitefish Lions Club through the years to make that legacy project happen, along with the support of the community and the school district.”

Through framed news articles lining the walls of his office at the Don K car dealership, where he works as service manager, one can trace the path of the Farm to School project.

It started with the Whitefish Lions looking for a legacy project, he told the Pilot, and has since grown and helped give shape to the new, state-of-the-art Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship in the school district.

With the club’s focus on issues related to eyesight and hearing, tackling diabetes and its consequences with healthy food seemed a ripe idea.

“I had a farming background ... and my mom was probably the one who instilled the garden thing in my head because we had one. So in that meeting we were thinking, ‘What can we do?’ We wanted something that was going to focus on the kids. Better nutrition, controlled diabetes, eyesight — it all kind of started to fit,” Shaffer recalls.

In its first two years the garden was in an adjacent lot to Don K, but after that lot was used to construct the Don K Subaru building the garden was relocated to the field next to Whitefish High School on Pine Avenue and Seventh Street.

Food grown in the garden also makes its way back to the district kitchen to be used in the school lunch program.

The program has been used to give students a better understanding of where their food comes from and how to take those skills to their own gardens.

“The kids would take it back into their own home,” Shaffer said. “Some of them didn’t even know what a spaghetti squash was, or they didn’t even know where a potato came from. Not only did they get the education, but they took it into their own homes and hopefully bettered their family.”

Whitefish Schools plan to construct a new building for Muldown Elementary School at the corner where the garden has flourished, so the garden has been relocated to a more permanent home in the new Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship.

The Farm to School program helped plant the seeds for the student-based initiative that led to the CSE, Shaffer said.

Members of the original class of seventh and eighth grades who planted in the garden later joined FREEFLOW in high school and worked on the Old Man Walking campaign with Richard Atkinson to raise money for the greenhouse project that eventually evolved into the CSE.

“The reason that took place was because the FREEFLOW club had their own experiences as seventh and eighth graders, so they wanted to put a greenhouse by the garden up there,” Shaffer said. “The garden, where it is now, is no longer because the new elementary school is going in there. But the legacy still goes on into the Center for Sustainability and Entrepreneurship.”

Shaffer said he and other Whitefish Lions — which include district members like superintendent Heather Davis Schmidt and middle school principal Josh Branstetter — will still continue to volunteer in the program in its new home.

Though the CSE will have its own special educational programming based on sustainability initiatives and environmental science, he says he’s still ready to help when his name is called.

“The Whitefish Lions Club role in this now is something that’s a whole lot easier on me. We volunteered to go help build the raised beds, we can go down and help the kids plant,” he said. “Anything they need, volunteers or support, the Whitefish Lions Club will certainly participate anytime we’re invited.”

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