Jack Burk on the Value of AmeriCorps and Food Education in Montezuma County

Jack Burk Photo.jpg

By: Sammy Blair

Jack Burk, previous president and board member of the Colorado State Conservation Board and the Mancos Conservation District, and current Montezuma School to Farm Project (MSTFP) Advisory Committee Member, continues to serve as a mentor to the Project. Jack worked with AmeriCorps Nadia Hebard to develop the first iteration of MSTFP in 2010. “I think we have a society where agriculture doesn’t care about health, and I think we have a society where healthcare doesn’t care about food,” says Jack. He believes “it is up to individuals to bridge the gap between what to eat and how to stay healthy. The only way to effectively do that is to grow your own food, or at least appreciate homegrown food.” Jack’s beliefs surrounding the importance of education and the need for food education in schools helped mold MSTFP into what it is today.

The program initially was a series of field trips. The first trip followed a drop of water from the snowy foothills of Mancos down to the Burk’s beef farm. MSTFP took a group of Mancos students in a bus and followed the water’s path. When they arrived at the ranch, Jack dug soil pits and talked about the local water cycle and soil health, and then hosted a cook out with his very own Burk Beef. For many students, it was their first exposure to how the environment and earth systems connect to their local food system.

The program continued for some time as a series of field trips, but organizing the trips and taking kids out of school for a half day became logistically difficult. When Sarah Syverson came along as the executive director, the program began to transform into what it looks like today, with school gardens and individual garden coordinators at each site.

In his memory of the program, Jack doesn’t have an event or moment over the last decade that shines brighter than the rest. However, he does recognize the AmeriCorps’ involvement as an integral part of the Project and a fundamental element to the success and growth of the program. Jack sees the “impact and the infectious energy of the program every time an AmeriCorps teaches.”

It’s not often remote rural communities get a continuous flow of college educated members who are passionate about the work they’re doing and can add outside perspective and dynamism to the work space. Jack believes that “by having a fresh group of AmeriCorps come through, it’s invigorating for everybody in the program.” He sees the exchange between the community and the MSFTP AmeriCorps as an opportunity for both parties to grow. Montezuma County does its best to teach the AmeriCorps and give them a positive experience in a new space, and the whole community benefits from the outside experience and personality that each new member brings.

As an Emeritus Professor at California State University, Fullerton, Jack Burk’s passion for education and his agricultural knowledge make him a strong advocate for garden programming. “I‘m convinced education is the root of all good,” says Jack. He believes that MSTFP and other School to Farm Projects will empower kids to take care of themselves and their land: “If you can teach kids to take care of themselves and do a good job of it, you’re changing the world forever.” Jack grinned and added, “look at little kids with carrots between their teeth and worms in their hands as they dig through soil. I can’t imagine anything that inundates a community like kids learning to do things that make them smile.”