How to make local food lucrative in Montana

Big Sky’s the limit: How to make local food lucrative in Montana

I was thrilled to find this article right after we had Sam Pearson come in to speak to us about her co-op. The whole time she was telling us about how it evolved, I was thinking about whether co-ops could be run on a business model successfully, and if so, how? Now, the same model discussed in the article may not be viable for a small community with limited interest, as there is in Lewisburg, but it sure did work in Montana!

The co-op they discussed, Community Food Co-op, has over 20,000 members! Just recently they started producing mostly local food. I was interested to see that the co-op had previously relied on out of state produce for the most part. I suppose I just always assumed that co-ops supported the 100-mile radius local food model. The person they interviewed, Christina Waller, mentioned the reason for this: it is more risky and labor intensive to work directly with farmers. When she did make the switch to local foods, it was really the relationships with the farmers that were most important. I could tell this was true from Sam’s discussion about the Happy Cow farmer, who they needed to maintain a good relationship with, but it just wasn’t working. 

The article also discusses how much better local food tastes (it does!), and how there is much less waste because of it. I was amazed to read about the 20 lb bags from Cisco where the bottom 2-3 lbs were useless because they got so crushed. And somehow, she managed to spend around $2 a pound for the produce! The customers bought $12,000 worth of local pumpkin pie, much more than they had spent during a previous year on non-local pies. Amazing. Christina is also planning to buy freezing equipment so vegetables can be flash frozen and used in the winter as well! What a wonderful implementation of a local food system (with major community support).

Being a Weekday Vegetarian (sort of)

My path towards vegetarianism has been pretty slow and unsteady. It started a few years ago with me naively deciding to go full vegetarian cold turkey (ahahaha ironic idiom). That lasted for about a whole 3 days, before I saw some absolutely delicious looking soup with chicken in it and caved in. Last year, I started meatless mondays, where — you guessed it– I don’t eat meat on mondays. Its actually a pretty cool movement:

I’ve followed this more or less through this year, but now I’ve decided to take the extra step of being a weekday vegetarian. That means no meat on weekdays, but everything is free game on weekends (mostly chicken and fish, I hardly eat any red meat as it is). I started this last week, so there hasn’t been much time to really see how well its working. However, I’m so glad I didn’t include weekends in this vegetarian plan because I got to eat fantastic authentic South African food (including chicken) this past Sunday after attending a climate change protest in Washington DC.

I did already fall off the wagon on Tuesday when I had the yummy boneless chicken nuggets that the caf makes every once in a while, oops. Otherwise, its been pretty easy, since the MTO salads are usually pretty good and can be made without meats. I just can’t help feeling that maybe I should just hold off on all of this vegetarian stuff until I graduate and get a chance to cook my own food. Wouldn’t that just make it so much easier, yummier and healthier? I’m sure I’ll get sick of the salads, black bean burgers and grilled cheeses soon, and then I’m not left with many options. However, I hate to idealize the future, because knowing me, I have these grandiose ideas of how wonderful my cooking is going to be, and it will probably suck just as much as Aramark for the first few years. To veg, or not to veg?

GMO Fail

So the FDA has extended the comment period on its approval of GM salmon (mmm.. who doesn’t love the fishy taste of genetic modification), MD & IL have  passed GMO labeling bills, and the Supreme Court will be hearing a patent infringement case between Monsanto and a farmer. Hopefully the Supreme Court will rule in favor of the farmer (I hate it when the big guy beats the little guy, as Monsanto has been doing FOREVER) in spite of justice Thomas being a former Monsanto Lawyer. Additionally, I’m happy that people are finally starting to realize the importance of at least recognizing and labeling GM foods. I feel that it is as important for states to take this GMO labeling issue to their legislatures as it is for the FDA to be promoting proper labeling of added sugars and chemicals to food.

One of the most interesting parts of this article is the newly published study on how genetically modifying seeds can lower their yield. A USDA funded study done by the University of Wisconsin found that genetically modified seeds can actually provide much less yield than regular seeds (including Monsanto’s seeds). They looked into what affected this and found that if multiple genes of a crop are changed, for reasons such as making them more drought resistant or bug resistant, this can further decrease their yield.  So in the end, even though farmers are hopping on this technological treadmill (though usually forced by the “double squeeze” from suppliers and processors) they are actually hurting themselves by “upgrading” to new GMO technology because their yields will be decreased.

Thinking about distance

Today we talked about locavorism in class, and it reminded me of a project that the sustainability committee is trying to get Aramark on board with.  Last year, we had the idea to label the food with different colors based on how far it had been transported to get here (we’ve been working with them ever since to get this idea in action). Green would indicate “close” (within 100 mi), yellow would indicate “medium distance” (100-~300 mi) and red would indicate “long distance” (>300 mi). Personally, I’m very interested in seeing how the labeling would affect people’s food choices (I would love to write my paper on this but it won’t be in effect in time). I know that it would certainly have a big impact on my own food choices, and it would also give us a great initial measurement that we can use to convince Aramark to reduce the distances that our food travels.

Personally, I am a huge advocate for locavorism. I see it as a realisitic system that could truly improve the relationship we have with our food. I feel as though a lot of people don’t have a good relationship with their food. That may sound weird, but I think since we have to eat a few times a day to stay alive, we should value the action instead of just doing it to get it done. I value knowing where my food came from, tasting it in its most natural form, and knowing that there wasn’t harm caused to animals, people or the environment through its production. I’ve talked about this in my blogs before, and how difficult I find it to actually follow these values while eating cafeteria food. For example, I love eating the tomato and basil sandwiches at Ele’s. They’re vegetarian and delicious (pretty rare for this campus). But who knows how far that ciabatta bread, or mozzarella cheese, or especially the tomatoes and basil traveled to get to my plate? I try not to think about it because I feel pretty powerless about where my food comes from while I’m in college.

Too busy to eat healthy?

I remember last semester I would wake up 15 minutes before class, run out the door and grab a muffin and a piece of fruit  from the caf as breakfast to eat in class. Now I try to make an effort to wake up early enough to have a proper sit-down breakfast of healthy food before class, but it is really hard sometimes. Sometimes, even moderately healthy breakfast doesn’t happen. This week I was totally swamped, and when I woke up early, it was to cram study for an exam. I wanted something quick to eat in my room, so what did I eat? Some suuuuuuper healthy Easy Mac, of course. At least I wasn’t starving all morning, but I certainly didn’t get a nutritious start to my day. And sadly, this happened 3 times last week. Sometimes I feel like I’m too busy to eat healthy, but it just sounds like an excuse in hindsight. When I think about it, what is more important than my health? Being in good health allows me to do everything that makes me so “busy” all the time. So shouldn’t my health be my first priority? I’m asking myself this now, but I’m pretty sure next week I’ll be “too busy” again. It is interesting how we can distance ourselves from what we know should be our highest priorities for things that seem more important or feel more important due to social expectations.

First off, Marion Nestle just totally shut-down that reader’s question. It makes me mad to think that people, whose health and best interests are being protected by this law, are opposed to it. But I guess that’s how it usually is with these things– there are always people fighting against public health policy that will be beneficial in the long run. So obviously I support this soda size cap; it just makes sense to me. I feel like I should have been surprised (but I wasn’t), when I read that in the 1950’s Coke advertised a 16 oz soda as big enough to serve 3 people. It makes sense- that’s double the size of a normal 8 oz beverage. But our size concepts of how large food and drink portions have to be are so skewed from the super-sizing effect of compaines like McDonalds and others. It makes me think of how they just put in these ridiculously sized drink cups in Benny’s. Now the smallest you can get is 22 oz! That’s huge! But its marketed as a “small” and the larges look more than twice the size.

Then Nestle went on to explain that this law isn’t a “nanny state” regulation, since consumers can choose to buy as many of the max size beverage they want. She also posits that we have to eat products that are fortified in vitamins and minerals, even if we don’t want to, due to other public health regulations. It is upsetting to me to read about how the Beverage Trade Association, which represents drink giants such as PepsiCo and Coca Cola, are spending sooooooooooo much money to partner with reputable civil rights associations to make this law a “racial” issue. I personally just can’t see how limiting soda size has ANYTHING to do with race. It is a health issue, and that is all. Stop trying to make it into a bigger or completely different issue than it is.

I like chicken, dude

Unfortunately, this article made them sound really unappealing: (Linked to from

Seriously. There’s E. coli everywhere on chickens. No suprise, really, with the filthy conditions they live in on factory farms. There’s also the issue of antibiotic resistance, which is not so much from humans using antibiotic handsoap too much but instead from use eating antibiotic laden meats. Chicken and cow and pig feed is just full of that stuff, as a “preventative method”. Maybe if the animals we are raising for food weren’t living in such dirty conditions, we wouldn’t have to worry about preventing “inevitable diseases”.

Another thing that shocked me was the description of how chickens have been bred to grow at unnaturally fast rates, but have less than the area of a 8.5×11″ piece of paper to live. “A full 25,000 individual animals defecate in the same enclosed space for 45 days. They get a lot bigger, rapidly growing from the size of your fist to the size of a soccer ball in that short period.”“If you grew as fast as a chicken, you’d weigh 349 pounds at age 2.” WOW. Most people aren’t 349 pounds ever in their entire lives. It just isn’t natural for that amount of growth to happen in such a short period of time. I think putting in these terms is really helpful for us to be able to connect to just how gross this process of quickly growing chickens for such a short period of time just to kill them and eat them is. I’m starting to jump back on the fully vegetarian train…

Food Reflection Blog:

I love eating chicken. Really, I do. It just becomes a lot harder to do when I have no control over where my chicken comes from (because Aramark supplies it). I morally believe that it is okay to consume animals, as that is what humans were originally intended to consume, but it is hard to do so in a moral way when almost all available chicken comes from factory farms like the ones described above. Like we discussed in class, I would feel much more comfortable consuming a chicken that I had raised and killed myself than eating one that came from a factory farm. That way, I would know it was treated well and lived a good life, and was respected the way any sentient being deserves to be, not tortured and forced to live in horrendous conditions before it was carelessly slaughtered. I did a decent job of limiting the chicken in my diet this week, especially since seeing those animal cruelty videos in class. However, when I chose to do so, it made me think about how convienence has such a high priority in our lives. Convenience dictates much of what people consume, and I do not disclude myself from this statement. If it was easy (and inexpensive– I am a poor college student you know) to obtain free range chicken, I would do so rather than eating the chicken of mystery origins that we see in the cafeteria every day. Since its simply not convenient for me to do so, the next most convenient thing is to eat the chicken available to me or not eat chicken at all. Some people find refraining from consuming meat an inconvenience, but I think it just takes some diligence. Perhaps I’ll start working a little harder on that next week.