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Montana Co-op gets grant to create community food hubs

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RONAN — The Montana Co-op is working to increase community connection first with food then, as Co-op president Jason Moore says, “by using the three C’s - curriculum, community, and cafeteria.” The Co-op has plans for many programs that will develop the three C’s but is currently focusing its efforts to bring local food to area communities through 12 schools in the valley.

The school food hubs program, funded with a $100,000 USDA Farm to School Grant was received by the Co-op in 2023. The USDA Farm to Schools Grant is also open for 2024 and the co-op is trying to get another organization to apply for it. While food production is the Co-op’s focus, there are plenty of other programs available.

Moore explained, “the government would like to see schools being the hub for sustainable food sources in their communities.” He went on to say, “the (school hubs) program involves delivering local food to schools by getting the schools connected to the local farmers.”  Moore also discussed the challenges the co-op is facing with getting the food into the schools saying, “We just need to get more farmers involved.” Developing additional food hubs at area schools would make fresh cooked food more available to the public.

Currently operating in the Red Poppy building in Ronan, the organization uses locally grown food to make fresh cooked food. Large amounts of tomatoes grown at the Red Poppy Garden are processed into tomato sauce. The plan is to open the facility’s kitchen for community meals made with locally grown produce like the 1,000 pounds of donated spaghetti and butternut squash. Until they get the proper certifications, they are serving free potluck style meals to the public. You can also barter your time to get a spot at the potluck table.   

“We (Americans) waste 40 percent of our food so we need some solutions for that so more people get food and less goes to waste,” Moore said. Using locally sourced food, he added, is one way to decrease the amount of wasted food.

Even the program director, Sherry Miller, works in the Co-op’s kitchen and on a recent Wednesday could be found dicing up tomatoes to create a sauce for a future meal. “I feel fortunate since I have a lot of skills that need to be shared and this is the place that seems to fit everything, I want to be able to do and teach,” she said.

Miller shared information about one of the Co-op’s programs entitled, “One Small Town.” Moore said the program “is very similar to the Heart and Soul Community Development program that is in Polson.’’ The One Small Town program is a nationwide program that has been in the works for 15 years. Moore explained, “We hope to be one of the first towns in the United States to fully go through the program and be able to offer its full benefits like the discounts on wholefood goods.’’ The main benefit of One Small Town is it allows participants to trade three hours of time per week for access to all the programs the Co-op offers. 

The Co-op has plenty to offer the public from knowledge about gardening and growing your own food, to music, physical fitness and art. Volunteers are needed to develop and nurture the various programs.

“We want to make a healthier community, and to start, we (invite) anyone in the community to come and help out,” Moore said. “If you want to get involved in the co-op you have a couple of opportunities to attend a meeting. You can come into our Friday meeting at 4 o’clock, which will have food and then we hope to have a meeting that we can then roll into the Music Co-op to get more people to come and enjoy.” The Co-op also has another meeting time on Monday at 2 p.m. though Moore said, “We don’t have food and music at our Monday meeting but if you really want to get involved that’s another time you can get a hold of us.” 


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