Food & Agriculture Program Sets Program Area & Project Priorities

The votes are in! Food and Agriculture Program Manager Caroline Wallace has been working with Board Members and the Food and Ag Task Force to set program area and project priorities for the next year and beyond. Input and ideas received from members and the Food & Ag Task Force since 2011 was compiled and split into potential program areas. Board Members helped to assess these potential program areas by asking ‘Does it moves us toward our vision?’ ‘Is it fundable?’ ‘Is it specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and timely?’ and ‘Is AERO the right group to do it?’ This process identified the top 3 potential program areas:

1. A New Generation of Food and Farm Improvement Clubs: This program area is focused on developing and providing ongoing assistance to local networks for improving farming and other projects that assist farmers, ranchers, consumer groups, and businesses in growing the local food economy. The intent is to help communities address issues in their local food system, whether that is assistance to farmers, producers, processors, and distributors in addressing technical or logistical issues or support for local food system research or initiatives.

2. Coordination of Existing Montana Food Systems Groups: This program area rose to the top because of one idea in particular – the initiation and coordination of a statewide food and agriculture organizational summit to coordinate and clarify efforts towards the goal of food-sovereignty as well as to facilitate natural organizational partnerships that may arise. The priority project in this program area is outreach to existing formal or informal food- and farming-focused groups to assess the need for such a summit and the broad-based sharing of strategic plans to identify what niches are being filled, where the gaps are, and what organizational needs exist.

2B. Development of Food Systems Networks: A planned outcome of the Farm Improvement Clubs, this program area is focused on developing a network of groups around the state working to increase local food production and consumption. These network groups encourage multi-discipline collaboration and communication between consumers, farmers, businesses, and institutions and leverage the experiences and successes of community-based food organizations or local networks in increasing local food supply or demand. AERO would play the role of bringing these groups together, supporting them, raising up their successes, and providing a shared platform for a statewide vision.

3. Farmer & Food Business Assistance with Marketing & Outreach: This program area revolves around the enhancement, population, and promotion of the online Abundant MT Directory (examples of enhancement include agritourism marketing tools, development of a mobile app, mobile device responsiveness, a job/internship board, land matching, etc). The objective is sharing “buy local” stories with an emphasis on social media and facilitating connections between farmers/producers and consumers.

GRANT AWARDED: We were recently awarded one the Department of Tourism’s E-marketing Technology Grant to add agritourism promotion features to Abundant (including farm tour routes), in addition to making it mobile device responsive.

With the top 3 priority areas identified, input on them, their implementation, and specific project ideas were gathered from members and the Food & Ag Task Force. After some clear and specific project ideas were identified and discussed, voting on these ideas was made available to the same group. The voting process reinforced the top 3 program areas with Food and Farm Improvement Clubs receiving 19 votes, Coordination of Existing Montana Food Systems Groups receiving 11 votes, and the Development of Food Systems Networks receiving 6 votes.

Setting these program area and project priorities has given us a clear direction in which to move forward with the mobilization of partners, project development, and, of course, fundraising!

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