Article by Robin Kelson
Photos by Danner Pickering
After eighteen months gathering community input, teasing out the components of sustainable local food systems, and exploring opportunities to strengthen their own regional food economy, the Flathead regional team of AERO’s Montana Food Economy Initiative (MFEI) delivered their report to MFEI in December 2018 with two conclusions:
1) A Flathead Valley values-based, community-sourced food system is still in early stages of development and currently lacks a cohesive voice.
2) Full community engagement requires outreach and education, including a collaborative marketing campaign.
Armed with this knowledge, the Flathead MFEI team have now formed themselves into a non-profit collective called Glacier F.E.A.S.T. (“Farmers and Eaters Advocating Sustainability Together”) to help create that cohesive voice for their region. Recognizing that a fully-functioning system includes everyone (if you eat, you’re in!), Glacier F.E.A.S.T. seeks to build awareness and help connect the dots in the system by bringing folks to the table from all parts of the local food system, including: producers, processors, distributors, consumers, and recycling/recovery.
The group’s first action was a Launch Dinner in August at Two Bear Farm called “Join Us At The Table!”. The sold-out event celebrated Montana’s sustainable agriculture efforts with an elaborate menu prepared by Chef Chris DiMaio of Three Forks Grille and composed entirely from sustainably grown Montana ingredients, including the wine and beer (“everything but the salt!”). In addition to ingredients from 15 purveyors in the valley, the dinner included food from purveyors in the Bitterroot and Gallatin Valleys, Central Montana, and the Hi-Line.
By all accounts, the more than 100 guests gave the event five stars. Beyond enjoying a delectable meal with friends and neighbors, all came away with a greater appreciation and enthusiasm for the value of a true community food system, in no small part due to the wonderful stories told by special guest and long-time AERO member Bob Quinn. With his inimitable charm, Bob spoke bluntly about the state of conventional food production and the critical role community plays in building a thriving local food economy, drawing on his career as a Montana organic farming pioneer, scientist, entrepreneur, and author of the book Grain By Grain.
Glacier F.E.A.S.T., whose steering committee currently comprises folks from Lower Valley Farm, Raven Ridge Farm, Snow Country Gardens, The Wicked Good Farm, Two Bear Farm, The Good Seed Company, and FarmHands Nourish, will reconvene after farming season to plan its next steps in community outreach and engagement. Recognizing the key role AERO played in creating the space for Glacier FEAST to form, the group notes that AERO’s impact and influence in supporting community engagement runs deep. Farm Hands Nourish, under whose nonprofit umbrella Glacier FEAST currently operates, was itself born out of an AERO-sponsored community building retreat some fifteen years ago.