We walked up town and to the weekly summer farmer’s market to meet one of my host Cheri’s friends, Martha Brown. Martha and her husband Marty moved to Red Lodge about four years ago and decided that they wanted to connect with people who were passionate about food in their community. They organized a forum about local food and over 200 people showed up; obviously this was something of interest to the rest of the community as well.
They formed a group, The Red Lodge Area Food Partnership Council (http://montanaruralhealthinitiative.info/?p=1191) whose mission is to vigorously promote a sustainable local food system that encourages a better quality of life for our citizens, improves the community’s economy and self-reliance, and preserves the land for generations to come. This group has done a lot of interesting events to raise awareness and money around local produce and healthy eating. They have hosted a Ceramic Art dinner at the ceramic studio and had the artists create plates that were then paired with a local chef’s creation. They gather about once a month to view documentary films and invite a local chef to prepare food to share while they discuss the movie. They also have seen a great interest in their farm tours, starting with 8 people they have grown to 40 people on some visits. These farm tours give individuals an inside look at local farms, and gives them an opportunity to meet the farmers and learn how the farms are managed.
One of these farms, Wholesome Foods is located about 45 minutes outside of Red Lodge. Martha had told me that this farm lost its farm managers un-expectantly, as in one day they were there the next morning they had vanished, leaving behind large crops that needed tending. The owners of the farm were unable to manage the crops and were going to have to let four acres of veggies die. When a group in Red Lodge heard they gathered together and volunteered their time and sweat equity, over 80 volunteers weeded and harvested the crops saving over 50% of the veggies that sold for around $10k. You may be able to spot a volunteer in town, they often can be seen wearing t-shirts with “The Great Veggie Rescue 2013” on the back.
I spoke with Robin Taylor who was one of the volunteers and part of the concerned citizens in the community. When “The Great Veggie Rescue 2013” was over Robin approached the owners of the farm and asked if she could take it over, working with interns to continue to bring both the community and school kids to the farm to interact and learn. Robin hopes to help manage the farm and prepare it to become a viable business for the next generation, she is hoping to hand it over within the next five years.
Both Martha and Robin introduced me to Alyssa Charney of Food Corps (https://foodcorps.org/where-we-work/montana) which is a national nonprofit working on a small scale with locale and sustainable solutions. They are focused on reducing poverty, promoting healthy communities and protecting natural resources. Alyssa has been in the Red Lodge area for about two years and in that time has worked side by side with children, creating a local garden, working with the school cafeterias to get access to local produce as well as getting kids excited about food through the summer camp.
I was incredibly impressed with the amount of work, and un-paid volunteer work that is happening in this community around food. They are kind-hearted people who are passionate about health and food and want to ensure that their community is being fed in the best way possible. It is admirable. It makes me think that if every community had champions like this that we might all be able to all have access to healthier foods and nutritional education for our youth.