Local Food Fair
NICK WOLCOTT/CHRONICLE Kelsey Carter, a MSU sustainable food and bioenergy systems major, serves up pasta made with Montana wheat at the Local Food Fair held on the MSU campus Tuesday.

John Turenne, former food service manager at Yale University, said he never used to think about how the food he bought for the school could affect the environment or society.

Rather, it was all about getting the most bang for Yale's buck.

"I always had to find the cheapest way to do to the most with food," he said Tuesday during a speech at Montana State University's Procrastinator Theater.

But then he met Alice Waters, a chef, author, restaurant owner and pioneer of the culinary philosophy based on cooking with only the freshest local ingredients.

Waters encouraged Turenne to begin looking for local buying options for Yale students. And, for the first time, Turenne began to consider where the university's food came from.

Today, Turenne is founder and president of Sustainable Food Systems. He travels the county talking about how to make campus food services more sustainable and local and Tuesday helped kick off MSU's fifth-annual Local Food Fair.

The fair was a celebration of Montana-made beef, beer, produce and herbs. More than 40 vendors gathered in the Strand Union Building ballrooms from 2 to 4 p.m. to give samples and information about the abundance of food Montana offers.

"We all need to realize food is something more than just sustenance for us," Turenne said. "We need to understand the stories behind the food."

Now, MSU spends about 12 percent of its food budget on products grown and processed in Montana. Potatoes, meat and dairy products comprise most of MSU's local menu.

Many of the companies with food fair booths, such as Wheat Montana and Montana Coffee Traders, sell to the university. But buying locally for thousands of college students is tricky.

Lyra Leigh-Nedbor, MSU Food Services farm-to-college coordinator, said produce is the hardest to acquire.

"Local farmers don't have enough produce for the whole campus," she said. "Wheat and beef are definitely the easiest to get."

Stephanie Hanson, MSU's marketing and sustainability manager, hopes to bring local food to MSU everyday. "It would be great if we could offer one item made in Montana per day to students," she said.

Students who attended the fair got to sample meatballs from a grass-finished beef dealer, goat cheese from Amaltheia Dairy, carrot cake from the Community Food Co-op and many other Montana treats. The MSU Horticulture Club sold fresh basil, oregano and sage.

The Madison River Brewing Company didn't offer beer samples, surely to the disappointment of some college students, but it did have literature about Montana breweries.

Some vendors offered ideas, not food. Gretchen Hooker, director of the ASMSU Sustainability Center, explained Take Back the Tap, a national initiative to persuade Americans to stop buying bottled water.

"We're trying to reduce the demand here on campus. Eventually we hope food services will stop selling bottled water altogether," Hooker said.

Ben Trammell, a health and human development major, was impressed with the fair's Montana motto.

"Buying locally is a great way to give Montana's economy a boost and to keep our friends and family in business," Trammell said.

Leigh-Nedbor hopes to attract even more vendors to campus next year.

"This fair is a great opportunity to educate everyone about what's available in the state," she said.

Hannah Stiff can be reached at hstiff@dailychronicle.com