In late November the Montana Food Economy Initiative project Steering Committee met to report on the four region’s progress towards developing strategic plans for regional food economies. The regional leaders include Thayne Mackey of Hi-Line Kitchen & Processing Center and Brookside Woolen Mill, Kate Wright of Bozeman’s Open & Local Coalition, Kate & Ian McLean of Sunflower Bakery in Helena, and Brooke Bohannon of Wicked Good Farm & Wicked Good Produce in Whitefish.
This project, funded through a Western SARE grant, will result in each region developing a strategic plan to address the unique challenges and opportunities in developing their local food economy. The plans will map out timelines, available resources and identify next steps.
Clear from the beginning of the project, each region has unique challenges,
from a lack of producers in Helena, to one major grocery store in a 400 mile
radius (hello Hi-line!). After reporting out on the initial community meetings
and discussions within each region, each regional leader gave an update.
Thayne and I took the difficult task of gathering Hi-line folks into one room,
noting that area producers and stakeholders are often on the road for their production, limited due to weather, or committed to a school or community
event. Transporting local products from the western part of the state to more
rural areas of NE Montana, and establishing a storage hub have been on the minds of many producers in this central Montana area. A February meeting or get-together after a sports tournament may be our best bet for gathering folks for follow-up discussions and solutions. A particular bonus for this area is the MT Department of Agriculture/NCAT Farm to School grant, which could provide additional capacity to the creation and direction of this region’s strategic plan.
Kate Wright with Open & Local introduced the Gallatin Valley coalition to the Steering Committee, and shared early conversations with AERO Project Manager Kaleena Miller, noting that when AERO was seeking regions and stakeholders for the project, Kaleena found project parallels in not only O&L’s collaboration with producers, chefs, educators, and entrepreneurs, but also their mission of strengthening SW Montana’s community food systems. As O&L moves forward with formalizing their structure over the next several months, AERO will continue to work with them and share resources,
contacts, and networks.
The Helena region plans to hold their next community meeting this winter, noting that land access and food storage have risen to the top of many stakeholder surveys and discussions. Kate and Ian recently joined the Advisory Committee of the East Helena Food & Culture Hub, which is focusing on improving the identity of East Helena through culinary training, commercial kitchen space, workforce enhancement, and more. What a great opportunity to explore alignment with MFEI and the East Helena group’s vision!
Brooke reported that this producer-led grant is fantastic for getting people together, however, most of the planning team members for the Flathead region are vegetable producers, making meetings and project deliverables tough during the summer months for the busy farmers and growers! A plan to diversify the regional planning team’s members (including more non-producers) will assist this group with educating and marketing the exploding network of local food in the
area. The Flathead region team hopes that by the end of the grant (September 2019), they will have a concise plan to further bolster their food system.
The next steps for the MFEI project are to hold additional community meetings, to collect and synthesize stakeholders’ input and ideas into strategic plans, and to present these plans to each region in late Spring 2019.