Growing up on a ranch homesteaded by my great grandfather in 1893, I learned at a young age that Montana's dominant food system was complex, controlled by outsiders and not very local. Cattle buyers from Nebraska came to buy our calves, and the wool from our sheep was shipped on a train out of Columbus to far off places. My parents were at the mercy of buyers and worked hard to put together a large enough shipment for distant feedlots. They struggled to pay off the ranch operating loan and the grocery tab at the local small store.
Farmland is being lost to producers at alarming rates. Finding ways to maintain production on these lands while accommodating population growth is essential. From the mid-80s through 2008, Missoula County alone has lost or converted to other uses, 29,000 acres of agricultural land. This is equivalent to three football fields a day.
In the past 10 years, there has been a groundswell lead by local farmers and ranchers to keep food production safe and local. Creating local control of food production is essential to strengthening local economies and the health of our communities. Protecting our best farmland, providing pathways for farmers to begin or continue their livelihood, and assuring local control of purchasing, producing and promoting products will provide nutritious and quality food to our communities.