Montana Food Economy Initiative

Project Overview

Project Type: Local Ed & Demo (formerly RGR)
Funds awarded in 2020: $74,759.00
Projected End Date: 11/30/2021
Host Institution Award ID: G352-20-W7906
Grant Recipients: AERO; Montana State University Extension; Blackfeet Agriculture Resource Management Plan; A Growing Culture; Montana Institute on Ecosystems; Vilicus Farm, Havre, MT; Two Bear Farm LLC, Whitefish, MT; Quinn Farm & Ranch & Kamut International, Big Sandy, MT; Juedeman Seven Mile Ranch, LLC and Canyon Cattle Co, Montana; Craig Iron Pipe, Blackfeet Rancher
Region: Western
State: Montana
Principal Investigator:

Information Products


  • Agronomic: wheat
  • Vegetables: carrots
  • Animal Products: eggs, meat


  • Education and Training: demonstration, mentoring, networking, technical assistance, workshop
  • Energy: byproduct utilization
  • Farm Business Management: farm-to-institution
  • Soil Management: composting, earthworms
  • Sustainable Communities: community planning, local and regional food systems, partnerships, public participation, values-based supply chains

    Proposal abstract:

    AERO’s MFEI is dedicated to strengthening the network of Montana community food systems to ensure producer  sustainability and resilience. Previous MFEI cohorts (WSARE funded), AERO members, and the 2016 Governors’ Food and Agriculture Summit highlighted lack of coordinated efforts between producers and the other sectors of the food system, diminishing producer viability. MFEI coordinates cross-sector engagement across all parts of the food system (producer, processor, distributor, consumer, recovery) to support critical producer sustainability (MFEI Food System Graphic).  The purpose of MFEI is to facilitate community-level, producer-led projects that (1) develop values-based food systems within communities and (2) connect community food systems in a statewide network. Community-reported outcomes of MFEI will be collected in a state-wide, cross-sector resource hub.


    Building on the data gathered in its regional food system development work to date, AERO proposes a two-prong approach to community food system development that is best suited to accommodate the range of capacity in Montana’s rural, often isolated, communities. MFEI accomplishes its goal by training producers and ag professionals in collaborative leadership to strengthen cross-sector relationships. The two prongs are: (1) an “intensive coaching” program designed to engage community stakeholders to self-identify and support change makers in  building a community’s capacity to focus on food system development and cross-sector engagement, and (2) a “grassroots to systems” (G2S) “pick list” of discrete, short-term projects for producers in more established food system communities to lead and which enhance on-farm resilience and cross-sector engagement.


    These two strategies build farmers’ collaborative leadership capacity to implement projects at the community level. With support from a farmer/partner advisory board, producers lead development of a cross-sector team, community assessment, project implementation and evaluation, and report at semi-annual MFEI meetings. Producers allied with a cross-sector collaboration make sustainable agriculture in Montana more profitable, resilient, and adapted to climate change.


    Project objectives from proposal:

    MFEI will increase producer knowledge and skill set in diverse, cross-sector inclusion for on-farm resilience and food system development to: intensive coaching and G2S participants (including producer and community team members), MFEI network meetings, resource hub users, and stakeholder advisory board members. By October 2020 evaluation metrics will demonstrate increased diversity among the advisory board. 


    The expanded advisory board will inform inclusive project development, implementation and evaluation processes, such that, by October 2020, at the launch of the expanded pick list of G2S projects, evaluation metrics will demonstrate that the expanded pick list was more responsive to diverse stakeholder needs than the pilot pick list. 


    Twelve G2S community teams and coaches will increase awareness of the need for collaboration. These leaders will increase facilitation skills to recruit diverse stakeholders, adapting the advisory board expansion model.


    MFEI will increase capacity of 12 producers to lead a G2S project, and teams will report results at the MFEI network meeting and on the AERO hub. One-hundred food system stakeholders will attend MFEI network meetings, of which 51 will be farmers who will express interest in leading a G2S group or coach in her/his community in 2021. Farmers engaged in MFEI projects will increase communication with other farmers and stakeholders from other sectors of the food system.


    G2S projects will improve climate adaptation, food system resilience, and/or food equity in Montana at the community and state levels; for example, arrange market mechanisms that pay farmers fairly and increase access to values-based, healthy food, and/or assist farmers in  increasing knowledge of on-farm energy efficiency and renewable energy options.

    Forty-nine consumers engaged in cross-sector community work will increase understanding of local foods, including the goals of producers that steward values-based community food production and increase intent to purchase local foods.

    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.