FoodCorps service member Ellie Vance conducts a lesson recently for students at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston. Vance is moving on to graduate school this fall after two years of teaching gardening and nutrition in Lewiston. Submitted photo

LEWISTON — Ellie Vance may be moving on from tending the garden beds at Montello Elementary School, but they certainly inspired her career path.

For the past two years, Vance has been one of several FoodCorps service members at the school department through a partnership with St. Mary’s Nutrition Center. FoodCorps is a national nonprofit focused on increasing access to nutritious meals in schools.

Vance, 24, and other service members partner with a variety of teachers in the schools, giving regular lessons on topics such as gardening, cooking and sustainability.

Montello has a school garden with raised beds, which Vance helps to maintain on top of conducting lessons. This week, she took a second grade class to the gardens for a lesson on beneficial insects, where students learned how some insects help the garden, followed by a “bug hunt.” They also planted flowers that will attract pollinators.

During winter months, they focus on cooking, or have lessons on climate or sustainability.

“By giving students access to gardening and cooking, we can broaden their horizons and expand their curiosity around food,” she said. “When they have that curiosity, they have more agency over their food and knowing what foods they like to eat and what they don’t like. Having that access to gardening and cooking is also a great way for students to learn in an environment that’s not in a classroom.”


FoodCorps has helped develop programming in Lewiston with the help of St. Mary’s Nutrition Center for more than a decade. Each service member serves for two years. Vance came to Lewiston from her native Alabama to attend Bates College. When she graduated in 2021, she applied for the FoodCorps position.

“I realized I’ve always been interested in food,” she said. “I love cooking, growing things, and always had really good access to food, and that’s been a major thing that’s shaped my life.”

The ultimate goal of the program, Vance said, is to go into a school and within one to five years, build a program that can be sustained by the school district going forward.

For example, Thomas J. McMahon Elementary School is “graduating” from its FoodCorps service this year, and starting next year, a full-time education technician position will conduct the work. When that happens, it frees up other schools for FoodCorps to work with, and a program at Raymond A. Geiger Elementary School is slated to begin next year.

Vance said Montello’s program is at the “midway point.” Its program began when she started there, but will continue next year. She said a Montello science teacher who has built curriculum around outdoor education will also be involved, and she hopes it will be the start of a sustained program at the school after FoodCorps leaves.

Jake Langlais, superintendent of schools in Lewiston, said the FoodCorps members at Lewiston schools have impacted the district in many positive ways.


“The program works literally from an organic perspective, teaches students about where food comes from, sustainability, that they can grow their own food, how to prepare it in nutritional ways, and enjoy the process,” he said. “Anytime students can be involved in a learning experience where they can see the product — or fruits and vegetables — from their commitment, it is a true learning opportunity. We are very appreciative of the partnership and collaboration.”

McMahon science teacher Diana Kruszewski told the Sun Journal earlier this year the work of FoodCorps “could impact kids’ future personal and professional lives,” by exposing them to potential career paths surrounding food.

Vance, along with one other service member at the school district, is leaving this summer. Vance will attend graduate school at Tufts University this fall for agriculture, food and environmental studies. However, both will continue to work in support roles next year for incoming FoodCorps members.

“Lewiston definitely feels like my home now, which I feel lucky for,” she said, adding that she plans to make frequent commutes between here and Boston in the fall. “I have a really good community of friends here.”

Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Then nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Andrew Rice at and we’ll do the rest.

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