FRENCHTOWN, Mont. - Not many eighth graders can say they've met the governor of their state, but that is what happened for Frenchtown Junior High School eighth grader Isabella Aaseng.
Aaseng is one of 20 Montana students handpicked to join Gov. Steve Bullock's initiative to fight childhood hunger. She intends to start a community garden on school grounds to create healthier food options in the cafeteria for all students, including those with food insecurity.
"My main goal is just that food-insecure families can get the food that their children need at school at a healthy and affordable cost," Aaseng said.
Aaseng said she's wanted to create a community garden at her school as long as she can remember. She ran for class president on the promise of creating the school garden but lost the election.
"But (the garden) was still one of my promises, and I wanted to keep working to complete it," she said.
Science teacher Susannah Murphy noticed Aaseng's drive and helped her research how to get involved with the governor's initiative.
"I was actually in Spanish class when I found out I was accepted," Aaseng added.
Aaseng said she and the other 19 students around the state traveled to Helena at the beginning of December to meet with state lawmakers to begin planning how to serve hungry communities in their hometown.
Bullock traveled to Frenchtown Wednesday to meet Aaseng and her team in person.
"I didn't really think childhood hunger was a big problem in Frenchtown, because it's such a small town," Aaseng said. Once she learned more about the issue, she says she was eager to help. "The project means to me that I can help people. I like being a leader and people knowing they can come to me if they need help. I'm just awarded the chance to help my community."
Murphy says student hunger is more common than most people think. She says it can be difficult for students to focus on learning and growing at school if they are hungry or worried about when they might receive their next meal.
Aaseng says before she and student volunteers break ground they need to gather resources.
"(We need) volunteers, definitely, to help build and plant. We need the funds for the seeds, tools and materials," Aaseng said. She estimates the project to cost just over $400. "I just really need people dedicated to planting and maintaining the garden."
Once the garden produces enough food Aaseng said she intends to donate food to Frenchtown's food bank. She hopes to encourage other students to get involved.
"(Aaseng's) drive and ability to inspire other people is what gives me confidence that this project will keep going for a long time," Murphy added.
If you'd like to get involved, contact Susannah Murphy at email@example.com using the subject line "Go Broncs Garden," and watch Frenchtown Junior High School's Facebook page for updates.