2021 was a year of fruition, delivering on programs and partnerships established in 2020.
In our Food Systems sector: AERO’s Montana Food Economy Initiative (MFEI) program completed 17 community-led projects across the state. Committed to helping build fruitful relationships for growing community food web connections, MFEI projects spanned the breath of the food system. Projects included supporting value-added product development, building on-farm soil health, facilitating a community food system assessment and building farm to institution relationships including produce procurement agreements and forward contracting programs. See our map on the 2021 End of Year Report, and listen to the project stories here. Our goal is to continue MFEI’s work in 2022 and beyond with new funding. Stay tuned!
Our Cottage/Value Added Food Program ended with a bang. In addition to hosting webinars to harmonize understanding among registered sanitarians, producers and vendors and producing eight technical assistance videos to support food operators, our program responded to the radical law changes in 2021 with passage of SB199 (“Montana Local Food Choice Act”) with our Food Product Liability Workshop series. More than 180 participants attended the series to learn the opportunities and risks associated with the new law. We’ve now received new funding to provide additional education for value-added producers and cottage food operators/vendors to learn now to safely maximize their opportunities and manage their risks under the new law. Stay tuned for program roll-out details! Find Cottage/Value Added Food Program resources here.
In our Network Weaving sector: 2021 was another virtual and free Expo year and, with 356 unique registrants, it proved to be our most popular one to date. Themed “Community the Heart of Resilient Food Systems”, Expo 2021 comprised 19 different sessions, with folks attending from across the state and the food system. Find session recordings here. Save the date! Expo 2022 is in-person in Great Falls! Join us Sep 30-Oct 2 at Arrow Peak Camp. Stay tuned for details!
While we chose to hold off on hosting Wild Dinners in 2021, 2022 is looking promising for co-hosting these in-person harvest-sharing potlucks once again with our partners as we move into summer and fall. Stay tuned!
In our Community Engagement sector: We dedicated time and resources as a steering committee member of the Grow Montana food policy coalition and supporting the collaborative initiative launching Montana Food Matters, Montana’s online, searchable food story library.
Last but not least, we spent much of 2021 “building the machine” that is Abundant Montana’s expanded platform as a marketing and media hub. While we officially launched in November at Expo, it took us through the end of 2021 to complete the transition. Now it’s complete! We couldn’t be prouder to be “starting the engine” in 2022 as Montana’s local food megaphone, committed to growing the demand for Montana-made food and helping MT’s food and farming businesses thrive. Check us out!
Financial overview: In 2021 AERO’s income resources increased substantially over 2020. This included increased grant funding and significant contributions to the Abundant Montana crowdsource campaign (over $128,000 raised in 2021!). Throughout the year, new donors joined and contribution levels increased as well. This year 56% of AERO’s budget came from members and donors, up from 43% last year. In addition, we celebrated 38 Business Partners in 2021 and welcomed 30 new members. Thank you to all our members, 75% of whom participate as sustaining contributors. This is such a gift.
Still, it is clear to us that we are not yet where we need to be as a sustainable organization. We are also clear that our role in the state is changing. More and more, AERO’s gifts, skills and resources are filling a gap for communities and community organizations, helping to convene and network weave at this level rather than primarily at the individual level. We continue to lean in to shifting our organization’s lens to a more community-centric one, beyond the membership model focus. Expanding our funding sources to align with this broader focus is our opportunity in 2022 and beyond.