Posted on Mon, February 23, 2009 by Jerusha Klemperer
4 Comments | Categories: Farms and Farming, School Food, Youth Food Movement,
All around the country, there is a revolution occurring in University Dining Halls. In some cases, universities and colleges are realizing the importance of sustainability/green initiatives in attracting students to their campuses; in other cases, these changes to a more sustainable and delicious food supply are happening as the result of student efforts. At the University of Montana, Dining Services is working with a local community-based food coalition. In today’s post, Lianna Bishop, a recent college grad and Terra Madre 2008 youth delegate writes to us from Missoula Montana about her role in helping the University’s dining services go local.
Greetings from Big Sky Country Missoula, Montana! After graduating from Marquette University in May of 2008, I continued on the next step of my journey in strengthening local food communities at the University of Montana. In July, I began work as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer working in conjunction with The University of Montana Dining Services and the nonprofit organization Grow Montana, a broad-based coalition that works to support policies that promote community based food production. The AmeriCorps VISTA program is specifically designed to fight poverty and address food insecurity issues. As the Farm to College Coordinator at the University of Montana, I join four other FoodCorps volunteers around the state to promote community economic development policies that improve citizen access, particularly in schools and universities, to local Montana foods.
The Farm to College Program at the University of Montana highlights a strong dedication to fostering relationships with farmers, ranchers and other food producers within the local community. The Program supports agricultural and economic development statewide by purchasing Montana food products. The program began in 2003 and has grown substantially since its inception. In 2008, 20% of the University Dining Services total food purchases were local and regional purchases. Even with a short growing season, the Farm to College Program is able to expand, purchasing year-round Montana produced products like beef, wheat, and oil.
As I drove the 1100 miles from Wisconsin to Montana I couldnt help but notice the acres upon acres of open land and roaming cattle. In fact, Montana ranks second in the U.S. for the number of acres in agricultural production. However, as I began my work with the Farm to College Program, it became apparent that 90% of what is produced on these acres is shipped out of state and even out of the country. Montanas lack of food processing is one of the biggest barriers to purchasing local food. It is difficult for institutions to purchase food in its raw form, and use more food in a value-added form, for example, cut and coined carrots instead of whole. Thus, raw products must be shipped out of state to be processed and then bought back. This contributes to a food system that is dangerously resource and energy dependent. My work to procure more local food for the University of Montana is an effort to keep more dollars within the state and to stimulate agricultural production.
I firmly believe in strengthening our local food communities in order to build a sustainable food system. As an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer I am committed to anti-poverty initiatives as they relate to our food system. In 2003, eight of the 10 poorest counties in the nation (based on wages and salaries) were in Montana and all of them agricultural. This statistic represents my growing concern about food security in our current food system. By supporting Montana farmers, ranchers and food producers, the Farm to College Program helps strengthen the connection between the urban and rural areas of the state. It is my mission to contribute to the growing sustainable food movement to make fresh, nutritious food available to all.