Montana State University top chef Rick Schneider is applauded for his efforts to purchase some of the basic foodstuffs the university uses locally. In a recent interview with the Chronicle, Schneider said he buys potatoes from a Whitehall producer and beef and beef products from Big Timber for the meals he and his staff prepare for thousands of MSU students and employees every day.
His initiative, though, gives one pause for thought: Could this effort be expanded, not only at MSU retail food services but at the university’s dorm food services and other institutional food preparers in the Bozeman area?
The so-called “locavore” movement is still in its seminal stages in most circles. Proponents advocate for the consumption of food produced as close to home as possible. The benefits are obvious. Widespread consumption of food shipped a few dozen miles instead of a few hundred or even thousands miles can mean much fresher food, the saving of immense quantities of fossil fuel and a boost to local economies.
With an annual food budget of $1 million, Schneider is in a position to take the locavore movement to a new level. But why stop at beef and potatoes? Montana farmers and ranchers also produce chickens, eggs, milk, cheese, ice cream, honey, bread and other wheat products, pork, sugar beets, peas and a variety of beans – all of which could be incorporated into the kind of made-from-scratch soups and other dishes that are healthier than the highly processed foods we commonly see in some institutional kitchens.
Other local institutional food producers could certainly benefit from expanding this idea. If they could coordinate their purchases of Montana-produced agricultural products and go to the market together, their combined buying power could translate into savings for the institutions and a boost to Montana farmers and ranchers. Once the total quantities of the needed raw foodstuffs are calculated, requests for proposals could be circulated in the ag community. And the responses would likely be swift and plentiful.
It could take a while to put such a system together. And federal regulations that govern how institutional food preparers do their business would have to be met. But it would be worth the effort.
Schneider had a great idea when he went to the local market for food. Perhaps it could be developed into an even better idea.