Posted on September 23, 2016 by zachb
Montana has a rich agricultural background, and many people are comforted by being able to see actual food growing or grazing as they drive more rural areas. Farmers and ranchers work diligently to keep food on our local tables and beyond. The Montana Department of Agriculture’s website reports that “the industry generated over $4.2 billion for all agriculture services and products rendered in 2012.” In addition to the most notable categories of beef and wheat, many other products, including cherries, sugar beets, lentils and even mint, all contribute to the mix.
The Farm-to-Table concept is a popular movement that promotes serving locally grown or harvested food in area restaurants and schools. The food is obtained directly from where it is produced without going through a store or other avenue. The idea is to provide the freshest possible ingredients for a meal. It benefits both parties in that the farm that is selling the products receives a greater profit by avoiding a middle man, and the restaurant can sell high quality menu items to their customers who value this. The Western Sustainability Exchange has a program called the Farm to Restaurant Connection which promotes restaurants using products that come from sustainable technique producers. Some local examples include Blackbird Kitchen, Saffron Table, Wheatgrass Saloon in Livingston, and the Yellowstone Mountain Club in Big Sky.
The original Farm-to-Table definition has somewhat morphed to include purchasing food at farmer’s markets or community gardens and then bringing the food home to your own table. Farmer’s markets are certainly not a new phenomenon; however, their growth over the years is something to appreciate. The Montana Department of Agriculture produced a publication this year showing all of the markets for the 2016 season. A quick count produces 70 seasonal markets (normally spanning from June through September) and 2 one-day markets. In our region, the Gallatin Valley Farmer’s Market, established in 1971, is held every Saturday morning at the Gallatin Valley Fairgrounds. If weekdays work better for an individual’s schedule, the Bogert Farmer’s Market holds their market open on 17 consecutive Tuesday evenings. Both Livingston and Big Sky hold their markets on Wednesday evenings. Ennis, Three Forks, Manhattan and Clyde Park are other area communities that support this venture.
Farm-to-School is another aspect of the agricultural mix that has seen positive growth. It introduces the goal of offering locally produced foods straight to the K-12 students of a community. In Livingston for instance, Sleeping Giant Middle School and Park High School contain aquaponics labs in the schools’ greenhouses that helps foster education about sustainable living and nutrition. Students take a hands-on roll in growing food that is served in their own school cafeteria. Stories similar to this abound in our state.
Value-added agriculture is one additional business model worth mentioning along this vein. It takes an agricultural product one step further by changing the physical state to increase or enhance its value. For instance, when wheat is turned into flour or chokecherries are made into syrup, the product has an increased value to consumers. This can add another component of income to farmers who are looking to expand or diversify their offerings in order to sustain or grow their business. Jobs can be created and the economy is stimulated. Of course as with any new venture, there are risks involved, but success stories are aplenty. The Folkvord family has turned Wheat Montana near Three Forks into a name that is synonymous with quality bread products. The grain is harvested, cleaned, milled and baked to prepare for sale to consumers. Amaltheia Dairy near Bozeman began as a small goat farm selling their milk to another company for cheese making. They have increased their production tremendously and now make 17 varieties of gourmet cheeses which are delivered fresh to their customers. Claudia Krevat has taken one woman’s love of the lentil into a unique business. Her lentil caravan travels the state to introduce consumers to this legume that is grown, yet not widely consumed, in Montana.With a plethora of recipes on hand, Krevat is showing Montanans this legume which provides protein for your body and jobs for local farmers is one that should make its way to your dinner table.
From the roadside cherry stands in the Flathead Valley to the endless rows of sugar beet fields in Eastern Montana, we can take pride in our state and the outstanding products that we produce and share with the rest of the world.