Local food expert to speak in Billings – Billings Gazette, March 20, 2015

March 20, 2015

Categories: Agriculture, Events, News, Northern Plains Resource Council


By Tom Lutey

Despite a growing appetite for locally grown food, the Billings farm-to-market scene still struggles. Northern Plains Resource Council would like to change that.

“We been banging on the door of a kind of alternative, local community food for a long time,” said Ressa Charter, a local rancher and Northern Plains leader. We’ve went to meetings with groups from 10 other ag states and jawboned about why it’s been such an uphill battle, as it’s certainly been at the Montana group.”

Charter and others would like to see the local food economy in Billings take the next step. They’re bringing in local food economist Ken Meter at month’s end to speak with the community about improving farm-to-market business in the Magic City.

Meter is known in local food circles for his “Finding Food in Farm Country” studies that look at ways to develop local food networks. He’s advised 107 different communities in 37 states about developing lasting food networks, including a 50-year plan for Minneapolis.

“Finding food in farm country” speaks to the challenges of a finding local meat and produce at a time when U.S. food production is geared for national and international distribution. Farmers raise food that’s loaded on trains and truck trailers, shipped to huge processing centers and then shipped across the country. It’s easy to spot truckloads of food rumbling down U.S. interstates, but Meter said finding a truck of food moving from a local farm to a local market is far less common.

“A lot of our market structure and food infrastructure are geared up to get food to large cities,” Meter said. “We really haven’t invested in the processes of building local connections and getting local commodities to local customers.”

Meter previously authored a study for Montana Farmers Union about improving a local food network in Montana’s Golden Triangle, a high-yield grain-producing region that includes Great Falls. In that area, grain elevators used to collect wheat for export were easy to find, but local consumer access to fresh ground Golden Triangle wheat wasn’t great. Local farmers found ways to market their grain closer to home for a price better than what they were receiving from the global market, Meter said.

Meter has also worked with producers in Flathead Valley and southwest Montana. His Billings talk “Building our local economy with Montana food,” takes place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 31, in the Community Room at Billings Public Library. It is free to the public.


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154