Catalyzing Increased Agricultural Sales through a Common Understanding of Montana's New Food Modernization Law

Final Report for EW16-036

Project Type: Professional Development Program
Funds awarded in 2016: $22,332.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2017
Grant Recipient: Alternative Energy Resources Organization
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:
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Project Information


Montana’s new Food Policy Modernization Law (Food Law) passed during the Montana Legislative Session of 2015, offering new and exciting opportunities to encourage food entrepreneurship in Montana. AERO saw the need for and value in educating Montana producers, food entrepreneurs, local health officials, nonprofits, and business and economic development educators about the Food Law and, most importantly, how to take full advantage of the new opportunities the Food Law created. AERO partnered with employees of the Food and Consumer Safety Section (FCSS) of the MT Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in the preparation of workshop content, and workshop delivery. This public-private partnership worked well and participants appreciated the opportunity to interact with both the state regulators and the county sanitarians whose participation was solicited by the FCSS leadership. Day-long workshops were held in Bozeman, Billings, Arlee, Great Falls and Kalispell between April 5 and May 12, 2016. A total of 118 people participated in the workshops. Feedback was received from nearly 60% of the workshop participants and a follow-up survey 6 months after the workshops was also conducted. An interactive forum for participants to interact with one another was created; that website also housed information about the workshop and supporting materials; feedback was received from participants through several follow-up surveys and 10 participants provided in-depth interviews about their experiences from and after the workshops. Over 90% of the attendees who responded felt the workshop was worthwhile and more opportunities should be planned for the future.

Project Objectives:

The objectives of the workshops were to:

  1. Learn about Montana’s Food Law history, new opportunities and implementation requirements and strategies.
  2. Build relationships among Montanans who want to start or grow a food business, the Food Law’s regulators, and resource people who can provide assistance and support.
  3. Help participants better formulate their food business ideas and plans.
  4. Identify questions, needs, further research and next steps in implementing the Food Law.

Montana’s new Food Policy Modernization Law (Food Law) passed during the Montana Legislative Session of 2015, offering new and exciting opportunities to encourage food entrepreneurship in Montana. The Food Law goes a long way to clean up confusing and contradictory language of past laws and regulations and opens new pathways for Cottage Food and other retail food enterprises. The Food Law provisions enables Montana entrepreneurs to test new ideas for non-potentially hazardous food products before scaling-up to a retail or wholesale food facility license.

Montana’s Food Law and its regulations came into full force in October 2015 following rule-making. AERO saw the need for, and value in, educating Montana producers, food entrepreneurs, local health officials, nonprofits, and business and economic development educators about the Food Law and, most importantly, how to take full advantage of the new opportunities the Food Law creates. Day-long workshops were held in Bozeman, Billings, Arlee, Great Falls and Kalispell between April 5 and May 12, 2016. A agenda, handouts and presentations were created for the workshops and modified after each one.

A total of 118 people participated in the workshops. AERO partnered with employees of the Food and Consumer Safety Section (FCSS) of the MT Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) in the preparation of workshop content, and workshop delivery. This public-private partnership worked well and participants appreciated the opportunity to interact with both the state regulators and the county sanitarians whose participation was solicited by the FCSS leadership. “Putting a face to the names of people who will be administering these rules is very helpful to me, along with the fact that they all seem to be willing to work with the people navigating them.” (Bozeman participant) Other organizations and agencies co-hosted the workshops including: the Montana Department of Agriculture, the Montana Food and Agricultural Development Network, the High Stakes Foundation, and USDA’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education (SARE) program. The stated purpose of the workshops was to educate and excite Montana’s agriculture and food entrepreneurs to use the new Food Law to grow successful businesses.


Click linked name(s) to expand/collapse or show everyone's info
  • Nancy Matheson
  • Pam Mavrolas
  • Barbara Rusmore
  • Corrie Williamson

Education & Outreach Initiatives



The Methods of the Project are broken down by month as follows:

Month 1-4

  • Develop & Produce fact sheets: Develop content to communicate the provisions of HB 478, clear up confusion, and harmonize past inconsistencies in implementation of food safety regulations. Address concerns of stakeholder groups to establish a common understanding and unified voice. Produce materials for distribution at the workshop and online.
  • Design workshops: Develop interactive one-day workshop curriculum to convey information, build bridges between stakeholders, and foster value-added economic development for producers. Provide hands-on integrative support for food businesses. The workshops' agenda can be found in: Appendix A.Workshop Agenda.   AERO’s intention was to make the workshops serve as “interactive labs”—a place where key users, regulators and resource people could have lively discussions, explore questions and raise new issues about the new Food Policy Modernization Law and its implementation. In order for this interactive or laboratory concept to work, AERO needed to recruit a diverse and balanced mix of attendees for each workshop.
  • Each workshop was limited to around 30 participants and had a targeted mix of participants to ensure lively and fruitful discussions and to meet the workshop objectives:
    •  Food producers and entrepreneurs (about 15)
    •  Local county sanitarians (2 to 3)
    •  Food business development resources and educators including: MSU Extension, Food and Ag Development Centers and Department of Agriculture (4 to 5)
    •  Farmers Market managers and agriculture and food systems nonprofits (4 to 5)
    •  Other (4 to 5) Develop online platform:
  • Design and build website for workshop attendees to connect and continue learning; provide ongoing interactive forum for stakeholders and downloadable fact sheets. Enable moderator to highlight key developments and increase clarity. Promote workshops & forum:
  • Develop and disseminate workshop announcements. Deliver workshops: Deliver five one-day regional workshops co-hosted by Montana’s Food and Agriculture Business Development Centers. Take notes. Gather workshop evaluation feedback. Write workshop report: Analyze workshop discussion notes and attendee feedback. Identify progress and remaining needs to achieve common understanding across stakeholders.

Month 4-8

  • Launch and promote online forum: Encourage all stakeholder groups to use the online forum to follow-up on unresolved issues. Provide workshop findings online.
  • Monitor and support online activity: Use usage statistics and website analytics to monitor usage of online content and tools. Facilitate productive online discussion.

Month 9

  • Analyze online forum usage statistics. Assess effectiveness of online forum, and make any recommendations about future needs.
  • Design follow-survey: Develop online survey to gather feedback from participants. Questions reflect both project benefits and unresolved issues.
  • Promote entrepreneurial successes with personal stories: Throughout the year, generate 10 statewide feature stories about producers employing the law to create new enterprises or existing businesses to improve their markets and sales around the state.

Month 10

  • Gather survey data: Post the survey link on the website and send email reminders to participants.
  • Make phone calls to participants for personal stories.

Month 11

  • Write final report: Analyze project data. Report total numbers of participants and numbers of new/expanded enterprises.
  • Document the extent to which information about HB 478 has been disseminated to entrepreneurs & the professionals who support them.
  • Identify intended and unintended outcomes & evaluate gaps.
  • Assess the status of implementation of HB 478 & whether a common understanding has been achieved. Identify future needs; make recommendations as needed.

Outreach and Publications

The contents of the final report can be found here: AERO-Growing-Food-Business-Workshop-report.4.11.17

The report appendices can be found here: 

Appendix A.Workshop Agenda





A pdf summary of 10 personal stories from workshop participants can be found here: Success-Stories_GBF-Workshops_2017



Outcomes and impacts:

The workshops were participatory and responsive to the needs, questions, plans and ideas of participants at each workshop. Workshop evaluations were completed either through an in-person survey following a workshop or an online evaluation survey emailed after the workshop. A complete summary of the responses can be found in Appendix C.   Figure 1 identifies the 118 attendees by category.  Table 1 summarizes participant responses.  All the responses can be found here: Appendix-B.-Growing-Food-Businesses-Workshop-Evaluation-Google-Forms

Workshop participants were asked what was most helpful/useful about the workshop in both the evaluation survey and in a short oral evaluation at the close of each workshop. The following content and process themes were mentioned most often:

  • The explanation of the new Food Law with all of its intricacies.
    • “Explanations of which foods are allowed as cottage foods and why they have to be low-risk.” (Arlee participant)
  • The workshops’ interactive and participatory design.
    • “The attendee interaction and questions.” (Arlee participant)
    • “The interactive small cohort groups in the afternoon where individuals’ specific questions could be asked and addressed directly.” (Bozeman participant)
    • “I thought coming together in an open discussion kind of way was very helpful. It seemed that many of the questions people had regarding the regulations were answered.” (Kalispell participant)
  • Individual networking with other participants and resource people.
    • “One-on-one with sanitarians and food safety specialists.” (Bozeman participant)
    • “Connecting and learning from others in the same field was very helpful. Talking to people who know about what help is available for growing my business was very helpful. I feel like I know who to talk to for additional help with my business.” (Billings participant)
    • “The small group discussions and lunchtime networking.” (Arlee participant)
  • Hearing the perspectives of DPHHS and local sanitarians.
    • “I really appreciated having the people responsible for writing and enforcing the law right there in the room!” (Billings participant)
    • “Networking w/state and county officials. They were reassuringly encouraging about wanting more value-added businesses in Montana.” (Kalispell participant)
  • The diversity of participants.
    • “The mix of voices represented -- great to hear different perspectives.” (Billings participant)
    • “Being in the same room with people from all parts of the process (funding, Health Dept, business planning, process, farming, etc.)” (Arlee participant)
  • Continue information sharing and discussion through the on-line peer learning forum. The forum is titled Growing Food Businesses: Opportunities Under Montana’s New Food Law (referred to in this report as New Food Law Forum) and can be found at: It is housed at AERO’s Montana Food Economy Initiative website:

Project Outcomes

Project outcomes:

Feedback from Participants: 

A follow-up survey with 12 questions was developed by AERO staff and shared with the 118 workshop participants via Google Forms can be found here Appendix-D.-Growing-Food-Businesses-Workshop-Evaluation-Follow-Up and an excel spreadsheet of all the responses can be found here: Appendix-D.-Growing-Food-Businesses-Workshop-Follow-Up-Responses. The survey was shared in November, 2016 and follow-up reminders were sent in January and March, 2017 via email. Two questions addressing future workshop locations and “willingness to pay” were added in January due to an uncertainty of funding for future workshops and a significant interested for more workshops expressed to AERO staff.

The follow up surveys assessed the benefits of the workshops, law changes, forum use, and ongoing challenges; a total of 44 follow-up surveys were completed and provided to AERO. The greatest number of responses came from workshop attendees from Arlee, Kalispell and Bozeman and direct market farmers, non-profit representatives and regulatory agencies were most likely to respond. Responses continue to highlight the value of networking and gathering various representatives of the regulating agencies into one place with those attempting to understand and use those new regulations. Responses also emphasized the continued need for additional workshops as the laws are standardized across counties, as questions arise, and as success stories continue to occur and can be used as viable examples for those looking to grow their businesses and food production.

When asked about how the workshop knowledge and training had been used or applied to new business opportunities, or changed business approaches and outcomes, comments included:

• “My neighbors are planning (and did get a start on) a neighborhood market. This workshop helped by giving us the confidence to get started, contacts in our local county health department, and a set of guidelines for inclusion in our market.”

• “We are just slowly nudging the value added idea along. We are gathering materials, ideas, knowledge, trainings, etc. We are confident in the next 3-5 years our farm will offer something value added.” • “Because of the law, the farmers market vendors I work with have been encouraged to create new products (spice blends, soup mixes, etc) with success.”

• “I have a clear understanding of labeling and what I need to add to my labels. Also, that the labeling requirements for the “cottage food law” is in line with what would be needed for wholesale labeling.”

• “I have decided to add jams and jellies for a value added product, also some breads”.

• “Yes, I am generally the first stop for our farmers market vendors when they are considering making a new product. I like to have the general answers before sending them to the county health person”.

• “We haven't acted on any ideas, but it deepened my understanding of the process that would need to be followed to implement such ideas”.

When asked about connecting with other farmers and producers, and applying group knowledge through the forum or other online opportunities, participants noted that challenges included:

• “Too many people trying to do the same thing or recreate programs that are already functioning. Groups not doing adequate market research and not identifying existing programs.”

• “Producers are so busy growing that marketing and communication IS the barrier, the importance of "others" helping to educate the consumers.”

• “Yes, I find it easy to network. The best way is to attend various workshops/meetings and get to know other farmers.”  “I feel like it's fairly easy to network through word of mouth. A challenge is that many of our local producers and buyers do not use the internet or email.”

• “Everyone is very helpful and willing to share information in my experience. Having a sufficient marketing budget is the biggest challenge”.

Attendees were asked what additional resources or opportunities could continue to help them again important knowledge and resources to use the law to their benefit. Answers included:

• “I would love to work with AERO to host workshops in our area. We don't have an extension agent or many experienced farmers so our pool of knowledge/resources is limited. We have put on several workshops for the farmers market vendors on our own with great attendance. The vendors would love to have more!”

• “Business type classes (accounting, bookkeeping, budgeting, marketing), and insurance classes (not all insurance policies cover CSA's, what about the liability of people coming on to the farm etc.)”

• “More on-farm research information availability to small producers.”

• “I really enjoy all educational workshops. I am learning of more livestock ranchers that would increase their production if they had a place to process the animals. Education on no-till organic produce production would be great. Education on dryland produce production would be great”.

• “I would love to spend a day or 2 with someone living the way I envision my business to be. Market farming and running a CSA”.

• “Any type of online, pre-recorded workshops, etc would be helpful for us in Troy. I can always gather the growers for a class on a big screen. They are hungry for knowledge.

• "You need a workshop where the restaurateurs tell the people how to package and fabricate things”.

• “More information on cash flow and startups for farming and ranching”.

• “Regional meet-ups. Perhaps in conjunction with CFAC and the Red Lodge Food Partnership Council so that we are effectively connecting people in appropriate regions”.

• “Marketing and how to get into local stores.”

The last 3 questions of the survey focused on the value of the new law and the value of the workshops. Over 90% of the workshop participants answered that they would recommend the workshop to others.  Figure2 displays the responses on the value of the workshops to increase business opportunities  and Figure-3 displays the survey responses on the value of these types of workshops.

Success Stories, Challenges and Boots-on-the-Ground Testimony  Follow-up interviews with participants to gain their personal stories were scheduled for January through March, 2017. During the final months of the project, AERO staff completed the remaining interviews of workshop attendees to assess and share their successes, challenges, and continued questions as they work to grow their food production and business opportunities in accordance with the state’s new laws. These interviews were shared through AERO’s networks in the form of articles in our quarterly print newsletter, the Sun Times (circulation of 600), as well as on AERO’s social media, blog, e-newsletters, and the MFEI website (Montana Food Law tab on the website).  A document titled: “Success Stories, Challenges and Boots-on-the-Ground Stories”, summarizes the 10 personal interviews from participants and can be found here: Success-Stories_GBF-Workshops_2017. AERO will be provided this document to news outlets, circulated to AERO membership and other non-profit partners. 

The Montana Food Economy Initiative Forum was developed and expanded due to the grant. AERO staff promoted the use of the online forum to growers, producers, and business owners interested in Montana’s Food Modernization Law of 2015. The Forum located on the Montana Food Economy Initiative ( has been monitored and moderated by AERO and shared with addition local partners and groups. The majority of survey respondents had either not been on the Forum or their visits were limited to 1 or 2 times.  

Comments from the survey suggested that the forum is a useful tool, but admitted there were many ways other than the forum to gain feedback of share information with a fellow producer. Staff is continuing to promote the site, and plan other ways of directing questions there so that they can be fully answered by staff, with the assistance of DPHHS staff.

Future Policy Recommendations were created:

• Discussions with the MT Department of Livestock on the need for clearer regulation of its egg laws and rules and for implementation of the USDA Poultry Exemptions the Livestock Department adopted but has not allowed to be implemented should occur before the next Montana Legislative Session. Both of these actions were recommendations coming out of the 2013 study involving the departments of Health, Agriculture and Livestock that have yet to be addressed by the Livestock Department. If the recommendations are implemented, these educational workshops could include information on new requirements. These regulatory clarifications could be a significant driver of food entrepreneurship in Montana.

• As some other states have done, expanding the Food Law provisions to include dried herb mixes and some minimally hazardous products, such as salsas and pickles.

• Consider legislation allowing the sale of pasteurized milk products at farmers' markets under strict compliance with storage and temperature controls, similar to those that allow meat to be sold at farmers markets.


Potential Contributions

Contributions to further policy clarifications were gathered and deployed as a result of the participation in the workshops.  These included:

  1. The  workshop process led to clarification of an important, and apparent contradiction between a DPHHS regulation and The Montana Produce Act, which is under the authority of the Montana Department of Agriculture. FCSS staff believed, based on one of the DPHHS rules, that farmers selling raw produce to anyone other than direct to a consumer––such as a co-op, restaurant or grocery––requires a wholesale food license. Workshop participants challenged DPHHS on this policy and an AERO consultant followed up with DPHHS staff with evidence that the policy in question was the result of an old rule that got missed during the process of deleting rules under the previous food law that are no longer consistent with the new Food Law. The old DPHHS rule was accidentally left on the books in the clean-up required following the DPHHS Food Law revisions made by the 2015 Montana Legislature. Attorneys from both agencies reviewed the relevant DPHHS rule and The Montana Produce Act and were able to clarify that the Department of Agriculture holds the authority for sales of raw agricultural products, including raw produce, and therefore no license is required of farmers selling their raw produce into retail or wholesale markets. To be precise: "Wholesale" means the sale of produce intended for resale,” 80-3-302 (10), MCA. The term does not include the sale of Montana-grown produce when sold by the Montana grower for purposes of resale or vegetative seed potato products intended or used for planting purposes. As a result of the workshops and having the "right people" in the room, the Montana Produce Act was clarified that wholesale sales by growers of their fresh, raw produce are exempt from the DPHHS wholesale food laws, and thus are not required to have a license for either their wholesale or retail sales of the fresh, unprocessed produce they grow.
  2. FCSS staff answered the question of "When does a raw agricultural commodity (RAC) becomes a consumer commodity in need of a license for that specific activity on a case-by-case basis?". In general, the answer to the licensing question is when produce is further processed and packaged, beyond field cutting or field washing, it becomes a consumer commodity in need of a license. Field cutting and field washing a RAC does not constitute processing. This view is consistent with the legal definition of a RAC, in 50-31-103(31), MCA. However, additional cutting or packaging may constitute an activity that needs a license.
  3. With respect to raw honey, it was clarified that it is exempt from retail licensure, if the honey is sold directly to a consumer. However, wholesaling honey to retailers is not exempt from licensing.

Development of Educational Resources:

  1. Several handouts were developed for the workshops by FCSS staff and AERO Appendix C.List of Workshop Handouts. These are now available to the public on the DPHHS FCSS website and AERO’s MFEI Forum.  
  2. As suggested at the Billings workshop, DPHHS is developing a “decision tree” to help food businesses understand what the certification and/or licensing requirements and options are by type of food product and market.
  3. AERO has created an on-line Forum to continue the conversations and inquiry begun at the workshops. This web-based forum was demonstrated at the workshops and participants were encouraged to sign-up and invite others to do the same. New information, resources and links were added over this year. Individuals can pose topical questions and learn what others are doing. AERO will monitor the site and request responses from state agencies as appropriate.

Future Recommendations

1. County sanitarian participation in the workshops is essential.  Sanitarians attending (usually around 3 per workshop) did an outstanding job of answering local regulatory questions and encouraging producers and food entrepreneurs to meet with them to solve “sticky” business and food safety issues. In the past, food business people did not always view sanitarians as helpful and positive. The interactions in these workshops helped to change that perception and create the opportunity for better communication between the regulators and the regulated.

2. Intentionally ensure diversity in Resource Staff attending: People really worked their way through the laws and gained a sense of where the food law ended and the need or opportunity for other permits and additional technical assistance and funding support began. In addition to having very smart and knowledgeable people from DPHHS, was having the technical assistance providers there, like county sanitarians and local economic development professionals, who could offer info and support for the next level up. More trainings like this are an opportunity to assist growers and entrepreneurs better understand the whole picture and get help with making the transitions from starting with cottage food and when its necessary to move into broader entrepreneurial activity. Having people there who could help with the next steps in funding and permitting was really valuable in Billings.

3. Continue encouraging attendance by Department of Agriculture and Food and Ag Development Center staff. Jan Tusick, Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, attended two workshops and was a great asset to workshop participants.

4. Recruit Food and Consumer Science Extension agents to future workshops. These professionals will have a significant role in educating Cottage Food entrepreneurs in food safety practices. In addition, DPHHS should consider conducting training on the new Cottage Food provisions for these Extension agents and discuss the importance of their educational role under the new Food Law.

5. Engage more potential business funders in workshops. Staff from including USDA Rural Development, Western SARE, MT Department of Agriculture GTA staff and others attending the workshops, particularly in Billings, helped participants think about potential financing options for new ideas.

6. Scheduling and recruitment lessons learned:

  •  Schedule future workshops in February and early March (not April and May).
  •  Consider charging a small registration fee ($10 to $15) to encourage those who register to show up. (No charge for resource people.)
  •  Close workshop registration at four or five people beyond the desired limit. AERO assumed there would be walk-ins but that wasn’t the case, so those folks that did not show and did not cancel in advance meant the people on the waiting lists did not have the opportunity to fill those seats.

7. Allow for additional Flexibility in Topics Covered by Workshops. Be willing to follow the needs and questions of the workshop attendees. Each workshop was slightly different and being flexible and attentive to participants was appreciated.

8. Value of Prearranged List of Participants. The diverse mix of participants at each workshop and the spirit of group inquiry was a great addition to the success of the workshops. The follow-up survey results will help AERO staff plan and shape future workshop offerings, as well as identify additional needs around the state including communication barriers, locating appropriate equipment and resources, breaking into new markets, and engaging with successful marketing and advertising.


Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.