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Valley View students get taste of food processing

RONAN — Flathead cherries in December? Yes, and 21 students from Valley View School visited Mission Mountain Food Enterprises on Dec. 22 to turn the cherries into jam and tour the facilities. 

Before the hands-on jam mixing and bottling, the kids gathered in a conference room and had a snack. Karl Sutton, Food and Agriculture Cooperative Development Project Coordinator, talked to the kids about the people who grow the cherries and how the cherries got from where they were grown to Mission Mountain Food Enterprises. The vocabulary included words such as cooperative, food processing, supply chain and value added.

Roland Godan, Operations Manager for Mission Mountain Food Enterprises, explained that the Valley View kids would help mix and bottle the cherry jam and get to take some home. They would also get to see some buffalo jerky and snack sticks being made by Matthew Silent Thunder, who has been producing jerky since last May. 

Then lunch would be served, every kid’s favorite. On the menu was pasta and tomato sauce, with the sauce made from tomatoes grown locally at Glacier View Acres. 

While this all adds up to a fun field day for the kids, Godan said MMFE gets a chance to teach students about value added agriculture. Value added agriculture is a process of increasing the economic value and consumer appeal of an agricultural commodity. Examples would be making jelly out of chokecherries, producing tomato sauce from locally grown tomatoes or making jerky from buffalo meat and marketing these products.

“If you buy locally, your food is automatically fresher,” Godan added.    

MMFE also likes to expose kids to where food comes from, especially since the average age of farmers is over 60. 

“Kids might enjoy the farming lifestyle, but they don’t know what it is,” Godan explained.

Godan and the MMFE are involved with the Know Your Food, Know Your Farmer Program. The program’s goal is to get as much local food into the school systems as possible. 

Recently, Godan said MMFE got a “a huge contract to provide all the taco meat for the University of Montana” as part of the whole Farm to College program.

Godan said about “$3 billion a year in agricultural products are sent out of this state every year.” He would like to capture some of this money and keep it in Montana. One problem, according to Godan, is that Montana doesn’t have a widespread food distribution infrastructure. 
Montana needs an economically viable method for farmers to get their products to users, Godan explained. One step in that direction is the Western Montana Growers Co-op, which is based in Dixon. As an example, Godan said a small farmer with five acres of carrots would drive to Dixon to get his carrots marketed with the co-op. 
“Look at it (a co-op) like a bus system,” Godan said. “Don’t do it with people, do it with produce.”
The Valley View students and staff made some Flathead cherry jam, ate some tasty local food and learned a lot about how and where food is produced and marketed. 

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