Over the past several years, we have seen dramatic growth in the number of farmers' markets, CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture), and restaurants and grocery stores touting local products in small towns and big cities across our region. For example, Missoula County now has seven farmers' markets!
Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) is an alternative economic model for food sales and distribution. CSA members pay a lump sum at the beginning of the growing season in exchange for weekly shares of vegetables (or coffee or cheese or beef or... you name it!) throughout the growing season. The influx of cash at the beginning of the season helps producers who need to buy seeds or other inputs to kick the season off right and members get great value for the food they receive! Win-win solution!
Click here for a list of farmers' markets and CSAs currently operating in Missoula.
While these two mechanisms are great, just like any economy, diversifying the market and the demand will help to make our local food economy stronger and more resilient. This includes building restaurant, retail, and institutional markets so that farmers have larger markets for their products.
It also includes building agritourism programs, "buy local" marketing campaigns, cooperative marketing programs, and other mechanisms that allow farmers to add value to the products they're selling. This is one of the greatest ways in which the local food system is superior to the industrial food system - it gives producers a greater ability to add value to their product and benefit from that added value, whereas in the industrial food system, most added profit is gained by the many middlemen between the producer and the eater.
There are lots of ways you can help build the market - primarily by buying local and Asking for Local when you're in grocery stores, restaurants, or anywhere else you eat! You can also join one of the working groups of the Montana Food Economy Initiative or our Food Systems Committee to get more involved in working on this issue!