Thursday, April 18, 2024

Packers cultivate sunny outlook

| January 14, 2024 12:00 AM

Days are supposed to be stretching longer since solstice but to me it doesn’t feel like it. Winter can be hard around here. 

At a Coaching for Your Success event sponsored by Discover Kalispell last summer one of the participants broke down in tears as we prepared to discuss “work-life alignment,” saying, “I can’t take another winter like that last one.”

Many in the room empathized. Summers with the plentiful daylight, recreation possibilities, and stream of visitors tend to speed by. Then the holidays come, and after that the gray settles in, clouding the valley and our mood.

I marvel at my friends trying “dry January” — is there a worse month to do it?

“Did anyone grow from seeds they got last year?” Land to Hand’s Ryan DeAngelis asked one of the first seed-packing crews of the season at the ImagineIf Columbia Falls branch in late November.

One of the volunteers said, “Our whole garden.” She shared that her household ate well from their harvest, but they needed more recipes for curry squash.

When I got to the Free the Seeds event at Flathead Valley Community College last spring, the seed room only had a few varieties left. I didn’t have a garden then, so I had prioritized spending time in the engaging workshops, including one by Shawn McDyre of Sun Hands Farm on mushroom cultivation.

DeAngelis, a garden supervisor for Land to Hand in Whitefish and Columbia Falls, prefers to have his hands in the dirt, but in the offseason he stays busy packing seeds. Rather, he orchestrates dozens of volunteers who pack millions of seeds for the popular annual giveaway.

Two weeks after the Columbia Falls event, DeAngelis traipsed up the stairs of the ImagineIf branch in Kalispell with tubs of seeds, paper packets, glue sticks and other supplies. He claimed one long table for our operation. 

Volunteers — a totally different group from the one in Columbia Falls — filtered in. Most came on their own; one person roped in a neighbor. The chatter built as we filled the table, then an adjacent one ceded to us by another library patron. Eight of us made up two assembly lines: stamping the packets, applying seed labels, filling the packets, gluing them shut, then packaging the packets for distribution.

We packaged parsnip seeds, then those for pasqueflower, which dropped out of DeAngelis’s bag looking like a ball of fuzz, or a nest of brown chicken feathers.

“These are the weirdest seeds I’ve ever seen,” a seed packer observed, reaching for a pinch to stuff in a packet.

The stamper of our group explained her involvement: “Who wants to stay home and do chores?” She also helps with Land to Hand’s program that provides snack bags to kids, including writing them notes of encouragement (to show “someone’s thinking about them”). 

“I don’t even garden,” she said of the task at hand. “I just like to volunteer.”

On March 2, some 15,000 packets of seeds will disperse via green thumbs around the valley who attend Land to Hand’s Free the Seeds event, at Flathead Valley Community College.

Get there early.

Margaret E. Davis, executive director of the Northwest Montana History Museum, can be reached at