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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Building Better Food Regulations, Together
Montana's confusing, and at times frustrating, food safety rules may finally be beginning to improve. Thanks to HB 630, passed during the 2013 legislative session, the state departments of Agriculture, Health and Human Services, and Livestock have joined forces to address problems and streamline food safety regulations. One of the specific goals of the project is to increase opportunities for local food businesses, so the departments are also looking into how home kitchens can be safely used to prepare certain foods, as well as how many commercial kitchens are available across the state.
The outpouring of public interest in helping to improve Montana's food safety regulations over the past few months has been remarkable. Participants included local entrepreneurs seeking the education and space they need to start new food businesses; producers confused about how to legally sell their products; processors juggling multiple licenses and conflicting regulations; and regulators who are working hard to protect public safety on very tight budgets.
The public expressed strong demand for local foods, from produce to pickles to poultry, and also discussed the need for more education for producers and regulators alike. Overall, one of the themes most reiterated throughout the process was the need to make the regulations easier to understand and comply with across all counties: Montana's local producers want to do what is legal and right to protect the public's health, but they need a clear and fair path to follow in order to do so.
Thanks to HB 630, some improvements are beginning to happen:
- The Department of Health and Human Services will be adopting the 2013 FDA model food code, an improved set of regulations based in more modern science than what is currently on the books. Most, if not all, of this can be accomplished through rule change, meaning it can happen before the next legislative session even starts.
- Food safety will be a major focus of DPHHS's summer training institute for sanitarians, allowing for increased education and streamlined enforcement.
- The departments are meeting regularly among themselves and with a broad stakeholder advisory committee, including Grow Montana, to identify and address food regulation issues. The committee members say they will continue this forum even after the HB 630 process concludes.
One of the main outcomes of HB 630 will be a report to be delivered to the Interim Economic Affairs Subcommittee of the Legislature this spring. This committee can choose to turn the report's recommendations into a bill for the 2015 Legislature, which would lead to more statutory improvements in our food regulations.
One thing that probably will be included in this report is a recommendation to update the current farmers market regulations to make them better reflect a more modern cottage-food industry. The likely proposal would allow for a wider array of places where products that are not potentially hazardous, such as baked goods and preserves produced in a home kitchen, may be sold directly to consumers in exchange for requiring a label and one-time registration. The agencies hope that this will improve business opportunities for small-scale local producers, increase the availability of local foods, and give consumers more knowledge about how their food was produced. But we want to hear from you: If you are a producer currently selling "cottage" foods (like baked goods and jellies) at farmers markets in Montana, please click here to take our survey and tell us how this new regulation would affect you.
NCAT's Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition works to support Montana's food and agricultural economy through common-sense solutions. One of the most common-sense things we can do to support local food in Montana right now is fix our tangled web of food regulations; doing so will keep more money in our communities and increase the availability of healthy, local food for all Montanans.
Grow Montana will be involved as the HB 630 project proceeds and will continue to look for ways to make our state's policy line up with a vision of a vibrant, healthy, Montana-based food system. To join the conversation, get the latest news and updates, and find out how you can be involved, "Like" us on Facebook, and sign up for the Montana Food and Ag. Listserve!
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]