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Local groceries roll out ‘Choose Local’ campaign

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RONAN — Ronan’s Harvest Foods began labeling locally produced food in October as part of a partnership with Mission Mountain Food Enterprises. 

As the brain-child of the Five Valley Food and Agriculture Summit held in December of 2011, MTCC AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer Shay Farmer said it has been a work in progress for some time. 

“Everyone is really excited about it because I think everyone knows that it will be really helpful for our local economy,” Farmer said. “It can be really hard and time consuming to find the products that support your neighbors. I think this promotion definitely makes it easier.”

The program is a partnership between Moody’s Market Inc., the owner of several local grocery stores, and Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center — a program of the Lake County Community Development Corporation. In addition to labeling locally produced foods, Harvest Foods also displays an infographic at the front of the store listing why shoppers should buy locally sourced foods.

According to the infographic, it’s better for the economy: If Western Montana shoppers start spending 15 percent of their grocery budget on locally sourced foods, it would generate $66 million of income to agriculture in the region. 

It’s good for the environment: Most food found in grocery stores (especially seasonal products like apples and tomatoes) must travel incredible distances to reach Western Montana. Buying local negates the need for such extensive travel, and would use much less fuel and create less carbon dioxide. 

It’s healthier: Foods that travel extreme distances (especially seasonal products like apples and tomatoes) are picked prematurely and ripen while in transport to insure they will be edible upon arrival. Locally sourced foods are allowed to stay on the vine longer and ripen naturally, adding nutrients and flavor.

Even so, Farmer said if the campaign had a single goal, it would be to make people more aware of their actions and how they spend their money.

“A lot of people don’t understand how their actions and how they spend their money could affect others for the better,” Farmer said. “I think the coolest part of the whole campaign is that it has been a community effort. They’ve been very supportive and helpful, and if we all work together to do this one thing, change can happen and we can build our economy.”

Greg Hertz, owner of Moody’s Market Inc., said he’s worked with local producers as much as possible in the valley, but has always had to overcome hurdles along the way. “We’ve had some difficulties,” Hertz said. “So we thought this program would help us get through some of those.”

Harvest Foods store manager James Mathews said the store has begun tracking sales of labeled products to determine if the labels make a difference. 

“There’s a lot of people who will buy it just because it’s a Montana product,” he said. 

Farmer said these reports would be looked at over a six to eight month span and the program would be re-evaluated. 

“A big part of this whole project is not just getting the materials out there, but really doing data collection to see if it is really helping Montana consumers and farmers,” Farmer said.  

MMFE Farm to Institution program manager Lindsay Howard said that with the soon-to-be Walmart Supercenter in Polson, a program like this is needed.

“The whole objective is to tell our Western Montana residents, ‘Hey, these are some awesome reasons to buy local food,” Howard said. “It’s better for the environment, community, economy and your health.”

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