Grow Montana is a broad-based coalition whose common purpose is to promote community economic development policies that support sustainable Montana-owned food production, processing, and distribution, and that improve all of our citizens' access to Montana foods. Read More >>
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Grow Montana's 2015 Policy Priorities—and how you can be involved!
Members of the Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition have spoken with stakeholders, allies, and decision-makers across the state during the past year, gathering ideas about how to help local food producers and their communities prosper. Inspired by those conversations, coalition members have chosen our top priorities for the next year: pursuing state-level support for farm to school projects that will nourish Montana's children while building healthy communities; ensuring that impending changes to our food safety laws are friendly to local producers and businesses; and educating Montanans about opportunities to weigh in on policies that impact our food system.
Here is a roundup of our policy priorities as well as ways to join us in building a vibrant Montana-based food system.
Support for Farm to School programs
Programs that bring local foods into schools are good for children and good for our communities: they improve nutrition in our schools and help keep money and jobs in the state. Montana has made great strides in farm to school over the past few years, but state-level support is needed for farm to school to truly flourish under the Big Sky. Based on input from our fellow Montanans as well as successful models in other states, Grow Montana is pursuing the creation of a farm to school coordinator position within the state government alongside a farm to school seed-grant program. This position and grant program would provide statewide support to make it easier for local schools to buy and serve food produced by Montanans. By providing coordination, training, and a small resource boost to get schools going, this policy will help bring more nutritious foods to our school children, allow producers and food entrepreneurs to grow and diversify their businesses, and retain money within our communities that would otherwise leave the state.
Streamlining food safety regulations
Montana's current patchwork of confusing and complicated food safety rules are a problem for Montana's farmers and food entrepreneurs. Recently, Grow Montana participated in a public process to review, streamline, and improve our state's food regulations. We are committed to seeing that any policy changes made as a result of this process work for Montana's local food producers and businesses. This includes crafting a cottage food law that will truly expand business opportunities for home-based food businesses and advocating for sensible rules to allow local small-scale poultry production.
Supporting other sensible solutions
Grow Montana also works with a broad range of allies that are working on growing a more robust and vibrant local food system. We are prepared to work with them in the coming year help educate and engage Montanans on a number of issues, including defending protections for agricultural land, ensuring that Montana's vital Food and Agricultural Development Center program is supported, and more. If you are interested in sharing a policy idea with Grow Montana, please contact Stephanie Potts, Grow Montana Coordinator at:
P.O. Box 3838
Butte, MT 59701
We need you!
The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition believes that when neighbors feed neighbors we can strengthen our communities, improve the health of individuals, and grow our economy. We bring a statewide voice to local-food system development and advocate for policy changes that will build robust local and regional food systems—but we can't do it without you! As we enthusiastically continue to move the local-food system movement forward and prepare for the upcoming legislative session, we need your help. We need your support, voice, and involvement if we are to achieve our goals. Here are some ways to help:
- Donate to help fund our policy efforts. Your support is absolutely essential to ensuring our success. Visit our donation page here, and please be sure to note that the donation is for "Grow Montana Policy" in the comment box.
- Stay connected to us. Sign up for the Montana Food and Ag. Listserv to stay connected to food and agriculture leaders across the state, including updates from Grow Montana on ways to be involved.
- Reach out to us. Want to learn more or become more deeply involved with our efforts? Are you a part of an organization that you think would be a good Grow Montana ally? Have a great policy idea to share? Send a message to Stephanie Potts,
Grow Montana Coordinator at:
P.O. Box 3838
Butte, MT 59701
Innovative policies support healthy kids and prosperous farmers
Across the country, efforts to connect schools and other public institutions to local food and producers are blossoming in myriad ways, and this diversity was evident the 1,100 attendees of the 2014 National Farm to Cafeteria Conference held recently in Austin, Texas. Farm to institution efforts bring local food into schools, colleges, hospitals, and other institutions. They involve everyone from students to policy makers, doing work ranging from boots-on-the-ground education work in schools to research, networking, and advocacy. But, nearly two decades since the modern Farm to School movement got going, there was one topic that seemed to interest—and impact—everyone at the latest National Conference: Policy.
Food policy is a key tool in the work to build more robust and healthy local food systems. Good food policy can remove barriers and create opportunities for consumers and producers, and a number of states have created policies that catalyzed their Farm to Institution efforts. These policies take many forms; as we continue working to support Farm to Institution efforts in Montana, there is a lot we can learn from their models. Here's a roundup of some of the most exciting policy models that were represented recently at the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, as well as information about how you can get involved in Grow Montana's Farm to Institution work here in Montana:
Farm to School Coordinator Position: Some states, including Alaska and Oklahoma, have passed legislation creating a position within a state agency—such as the Department of Agriculture, Education, or Natural Resources—to promote, coordinate, and otherwise support Farm to Institution efforts. Some states, such as Vermont and Oregon, have actually created two positions within their departments of Agriculture and Education. Other states go beyond a "Farm to School" coordinator, instead choosing to appoint a "Farm to Institution" or "local food" coordinator. Regardless of their title and exact scope, these coordinators serve as a critical "one stop shop" for Farm to School information and action in the state; smooth out barriers between producers, institutions, and regulators; create educational and evaluation resources; help leverage state resources to support and strengthen Farm to Institution in the State; and more.
Official Farm to School Taskforce: A variation on the Farm to School Coordinator position is the Farm to School Taskforce: a group that is appointed to identify needs, make connections, and support farm to school efforts on a state-wide level. Although they receive state endorsement, only some state taskforces receive state funding, other times they are left to find support on their own. Colorado's Farm to School Taskforce was created in 2010; since then farm to school efforts have increased by 400%, thanks in part to their coordination efforts and resources.
Farm to School Funding: Many states, including Vermont, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, have created grant and reimbursement programs to help support farm to school projects. Vermont's innovative mini-grant program provides up to $15,000 per school district to assist with planning and implementing school garden projects and farm to school food sourcing, while Alaska's legislature has set aside $3 million to reimburse schools for purchasing school food that was locally farmed or fished. Because securing funding is one of the most difficult steps to establishing a farm to institution grant program, some states have recently begun finding creative ways to fund their grant programs. In New Jersey, for instance, taxpayers now have the option of supporting Farm to School efforts through a voluntary contribution on their state income taxes.
Many states partner a grant program with a farm to school coordinator, who often administers the program along with other duties. In a number of cases, advocates first established the coordinator position, and later were able to pass a grant program as Farm to Institution successes and support continued to grow.
Farm to Table Caucus: One of the most innovative policy ideas discussed at the conference came from the host state of Texas. There, state Representative Eddie Rodriguez has founded the Texas House Farm to Table Caucus, a bipartisan group of legislators who work together to create policy that helps support thriving local food systems. Speaking to conference attendees, Rodriguez said the caucus created opportunities for cooperation and dialogue between policy makers from rural and urban communities and from both sides of the political aisle. And they're getting things done: so far, the Texas farm to table caucus has passed bills to create a cottage food industry and streamline farmers market regulations, and they have their sights on further improvements. Legislators in Montana could choose to organize themselves into a similar caucus.
Back in the Big Sky State
Farm to Institution is one of Grow Montana's main focus areas; returning from the National Farm to Cafeteria Conference, we're more energized than ever, and we hope that you will get involved!
Currently, the Grow Montana steering committee is exploring our 2015 legislative priorities, and our farm to institution subcommittee is investigating what policies might be right to strengthen and increase farm to institution efforts in Montana. We rely on practitioners—farmers, ranchers, food buyers, activists, nutritionists, processors, etc.—to give us ideas and directions. If you have ideas for policies, or even specific legislation, that we should explore for 2015, please send them to email@example.com. If policy's not your thing, you can let us know what challenges you are running into as you work towards a Montana-based food system—even if you don't know exactly what the policy issue is, just send your thoughts over, and we'll see what we can find out.
Policies to Support a Montana-based Food System
In the 2013 legislature, Grow Montana promoted sensible and sustainable food policy, serving as the driving force behind bills to jump-start Farm to School efforts in the state and support Montana's network of Food and Agricultural Development Centers. We also worked alongside our allies to streamline food safety regulations, open markets for local producers, and preserve Montana's agricultural lands. Click here to read some of the highlights.
Food System Research Highlights
In 2011, nationally-recognized food system analyst Ken Meter of Crossroads Resource Center was commissioned by Grow Montana members and others to do a series of studies on Montana's regional food economy. Meter identifies the purpose of our food system as being four-fold: to build health, wealth, connection, and capacity in our communities. The first Local Farm & Food Economy Study covered a five county area in western Montana—where Meter presented his findings at standing-room-only community gatherings in Kalispell and Ronan. According to Meter's study, area farmers earned $76 million dollars less by selling commodities in 2008 than they earned in 1969. He also highlighted that direct farm-to-consumer sales in that region are 3.5 times the national average, and that purchasing 15% of food directly from producers would generate $66 million in new income for western Montana farmers. Read highlights of his western Montana research [PDF/200KB], or view slides from Meter's western Montana presentation. [PDF/6.05MB]
Meter later completed three more studies of a 32-county area encompassing Montana's Golden Triangle, southeast of the Golden Triangle, and eastern Montana. He presented his findings at the Montana Farmers Union (MFU) convention in Great Falls. Research on the Golden Triangle covers one of the most productive grain growing areas in the country, and in particular, of hard red winter wheat that is shipped to export markets in Asia. MFU staff Sandy Courtnage explains "Meter did not propose that all farmers should entirely change what they do; but he was able to make a very convincing case that 'Finding Food in Farm Country' is a very difficult thing to do. If developing a community based food system is a goal of these areas, some planning and incremental adjustments are needed." Read highlights of his Golden Triangle [PDF/235KB] and southeast of Golden Triangle [PDF/230KB] and eastern Montana [PDF/233KB] reports.
Learn more about Grow Montana's research.
Local Foods Video
Ever wonder why it can be so hard to find locally-grown foods in an agricultural state like Montana?
Grow Montana, Montana Farmers Union, and Community GATE Farm to Table Project put together this video to explore exactly that question. Enjoy!
Please click the arrow to watch the video.
Montana's Food System in ChangeThis 10-minute video tells the history of Montana's food system from a time when the state's farmers and ranchers produced most of Montanans' food--through agriculture's shift to commodity production for export following WWII. The story describes the rise of hunger in Montana and suggests a return to producing food for local consumption as a possible path to economic revitalization and food security.
This video was produced for the March 2007 Montana Governor's Summit on Food and Agriculture by the summit planning committee, with production completed under the auspices of the Montana Department of Agriculture by Murmax Productions of Power, Mont. To order copies of the DVD please contact debbier(at)ncat.org.
Please click the arrow to watch the video.
(Approx. 10min in length)
Explore more Grow Montana Resources.
Grow Montana Steering Committee Members
Montana's Steering Committee also includes ongoing advisory participation from the Montana Department of Agriculture and the Montana Office of Public Instruction's Team Nutrition Program.
Did You Know?
If each household in Montana spent just $10 a week on Montana-produced food, we would redirect $186 million dollars each year to the state's food producers.
Want more facts like these about Montana's food system?
[PDF / 133KB]