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Connecting Local Producers to Montana Schools

Posted by Farm to School Specialist Allison Bell, Mountain Plains Regional Office, Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition Nutrition Security
May 31, 2023
Two beef producers sit at a booth to introduce local school officials to their products during a Farm to School networking event in Hardin, Montana, March 13, 2023

Bringing together local producers and schools was the objective of the “Bringing the Farm to School” producer training in Hardin, Montana. The training sought to build relationships between schools and producers to increase the availability of local foods served to children. USDA Farm to School Specialists Andrea Alma and Alli Bell were on hand to demonstrate the many ways USDA’s Farm to School Program is connecting with schools and communities.

Partners from Montana Team Nutrition and the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center brought the training curriculum to life, showing agricultural producers how to approach schools to sell their products and offering insight into procurement considerations, including the budgets, timing, and regulations faced by school food directors.

Participants shared ideas on how to connect kids to more local foods. For example, two local ranchers drove more than five hours to the training, looking for strategies on approaching schools with their excess ground beef. Another attendee, trying to start a food hub, wanted to orient her business to sell food to schools. Another participant planned to start a mixed vegetable operation and wanted to incorporate farm to school in her business plan.

The training included a tour of the Hardin School kitchen with Food Service Director Marlo Spreng and Hardin Farm to School Coordinator Elle Ross. They described the district’s journey to more scratch cooking and meals featuring traditional Crow dishes, since the school serves children from the Crow Reservation.

The training also hosted a “Montana Foods for Montana Schools” connection event for school food service professionals to learn more about Farm to School and to meet farmers in their area. This innovative event covered it all - knowledge sharing, relationship building, and coming together over a meal. It was an outstanding networking and program improvement opportunity Mountain Plains Regional staff were proud to attend.

A bowl of local granola sits on display next to local honey and local yogurt at a producers’ Farm to School networking event in Hardin, Montana, March 13, 2023