BILLINGS — Abundant agriculture is a cornerstone of state pride in Montana and it can offer a lot of delicious options for putting fresh, local food on our tables.
This August, the Northern Plains Resource Council is challenging everybody to try to include a locally-produced food on their plate every day of the month.
Local producers like Patrick Certain from Stone Soup Garden are leaning into the challenge.
"It tastes better, it's better for you, and it's better for the community as well," Certain said. "Those local dollars, if they're circulated to local producers, they end up circulating within the community and creating more prosperity all around."
At his half-acre vegetable farm in Laurel, Certain has a little bit of everything ready for harvest.
“Right now it's a really exciting time because we have basically everything. We have tomatoes and cucumbers and peppers coming in, a lot of salad greens, and a lot of staple crops; carrots, beets, peas,” Certain said.
Stone Soup Garden sells produce at shops and local farmers markets around the Yellowstone Valley and in Red Lodge, including at Zest in downtown Billings.
Both Stone Soup Garden and Zest are members of the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, a grower's cooperative serving central and eastern Montana.
“You can see products from me as well as from other farmers and ranchers put an order together and then we distribute once a week," Certain said.
“When the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub first started, they were looking for pickup locations around town because you order your food online and then pick it up once a week in a dedicated location," said Marguerite Jodry, managing member of Zest. "We thought that it would be a good match for us because people who love local food generally love to cook. So it's a really good combination.”
Connecting consumers to local foods is the goal of the Eighth Annual Montana Local Food Challenge, organized by the Northern Plains Resource Council.
The goal is to get Montanans to eat something produced locally every day during the entire month of August, participate in online challenges, try new foods, meet producers, and share recipes and knowledge with other participants. You can sign up for the challenge here.
Diving into eating locally can sometimes take people outside of their comfort zone.
"A lot of times local vegetables in particular will be things that maybe you're not used to getting in the grocery store," Jodry said. "Local meats might be cuts that you don't see in a really regular basis. So it requires a little bit of research, a little bit of skill development to be able to cook with those raw, fresh ingredients. But once you do, you have those skills, they're really delicious.
But local farmers and chefs are here to help, saying they know you'll see the payoff on your plate.
“There is something to that quality and to that community and to that vibrancy that you get from being a part of the local food scene," Certain said.