work journal

Homegrown series

August 5, 2020

With empty grocery shelves still echoing in the national consciousness, reconsidering the system that produces America’s cheap food has become a topic of conversation nationwide. Consumers want more secure food, and they’re looking local, with small producers and processors seeing increased demand.

In late 2021, I spent several months reporting a two part-series on food systems in Montana. I learned that if we want to keep Montana-grown food — and the associated dollars — in-state, the local supply chain needs to be expanded. That includes storage and distribution infrastructure, but the bottleneck is mostly at the food processor level.

Part 1 focused on small, independent processors, highlighting Black Dog Farm, Amsterdam Meat Shop and Root Cellar Foods. It also includes perspectives from Lifeline Dairy, Pioneer Meats, and several others around the state. These small businesses are key to building a more resilient Montana food system.

Part 2 looked at two nonprofit, community-based processors, the long-standing Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, and the groundbreaking Livingston Food Resource Center. Both are building sustainability and resilience out of collaboration.

As I take a breather after reporting, I've been loving our backyard food system, too. Our garden is bursting, and my husband, Pat, shot a pronghorn with his bow this past weekend. Asking him about the hunt and his thought process—the belly crawling and watching the animals, about his focus and the intensity of taking another life—I realize how disconnected I am from a lot of the food we eat, even though we grow or hunt a large portion of it.

We're not alone.

Only 10% of the food Montanans eat is produced in Montana, as compared to 70% in the 1950s. But people around this big state value local food, and many are working to change that. The next challenge is making it more affordable.

It also continues to lend perspective, in terms of feeding our own family as compared to feeding humanity: Not everyone is so lucky they can spend their Sundays crawling through rattlesnake-infested sagebrush in pursuit of pronghorns, and we all have to eat. We now need to figure out a way to do it that doesn’t destroy our planet.

Photos by Jason Thompson

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