For Natasha Hegmann and William “Robby” Robertson, not only did they want to see Montana, they also wanted to serve the community they landed in.
Hegmann and Robertson are both in Ennis with programs under the Americorps banner. Hegmann is an Americorps VISTA volunteer.
Robertson is with Big Sky Watershed Corps, which is a cooperative program with the Montana Conservation Districts and Montana Conservation Corps.
The pair is working with two local organizations to help expand education and outreach efforts in Ennis and the Madison Valley.
Hegmann, 22, is working with Madison Farm to Fork and Robertson is working with the Madison Watershed Partnership.
VISTA is a long-standing program within Americorps and stands for Volunteers in Service to America. For Hegmann her passion is centered on local food and agriculture, which made her a perfect fit with Farm to Fork.
Growing up in Iowa, she had opportunities throughout high school to work at a local farm, which instilled a passion for working with the land and with local communities.
“I haven’t yet encountered work that is as rewarding as growing food,” she said.
But for Hegmann, that passion is coupled with working to connect communities and people to local producers.
Robertson, 23, comes to Ennis from Alabama where he earned a degree in environmental engineering.
Working with the Madison Watershed Partnership, which consists of the Madison Conservation District, Madison Valley Ranchlands Group and the Madison River Foundation, proved to be a great opportunity, Robertson said.
“It suited my interest because I wanted to take my degree and focus on the water part of it,” he said.
The Big Sky Watershed Corps is a new program designed to get people like Robertson out in the community helping watershed groups, said Madison Watershed Coordinator, Sunni Heikes-Knapton.
Initially, the Madison Watershed Partnership and Madison Farm to Fork were going to look at sharing a volunteer, but once the two programs developed goals for the year, both realized it was more than one person could handle, said Janet Dochnahl with Farm to Fork.
Both Hegmann and Robertson are helping their groups build and establish programs.
“We got to kind of a tipping point where if we wanted to be able to keep going with these successful programs, we needed a little bit of help so in the long term they could be sustainable,” Heikes-Knapton said.
She points to programs like the Madison Stream Team, which is a volunteer group of adults that does water quality monitoring around the valley; and the weed mapping program, which has gone on along the Madison River for the past two years. These relatively new programs are in addition to the Jack Creek Monitoring project, which has been going on for about six years.
“He brings a fresh perspective with some of the stuff we’ve been working on for year, it’s been very useful,” she said.
With Farm to Fork, Hegmann is able to help build the framework for programs that the organization has focused on for the past couple of years, Dochnahl said.
These programs include Farm to School, which is a program that works with local teachers and students to include local foods and nutrition into the curriculum. The program also involves working with the school to get local produce from the Farm to Fork greenhouse in the cafeteria, she said.
Hegmann is also involved with the Ennis Adult Education program in providing classes on nutrition and gardening.
Developing these community programs to a sustainable level is her priority.
“My focus is kind of working to develop capacity in the community that will be sustainable after I leave,” Hegmann said.
Robertson is doing similar work with the Madison Watershed Partnership. He’s helping recruit volunteers, analyze data that’s been collected on both water quality and noxious weeds and do public outreach.
Both Hegmann and Robertson will be in Ennis through next summer. The two will work together on the Good Thymes summer camp, which will be for local kids and is a joint effort with Farm to Fork and the Madison Watershed Partnership.
Heikes-Knapton is excited to have both of them in town.
“I think we’re lucky to have people like that who are willing to come here and help us build a better community,” she said.