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Local Food Economy Brainstorming in Billings

PHOTO: Billings may be in the heart of farm country, but the region imports between 90 and 95 percent of its food. A farm and food systems expert presents ideas on Tuesday for how local food can become an economic development tool. Photo credit: LifeOfPix.com
PHOTO: Billings may be in the heart of farm country, but the region imports between 90 and 95 percent of its food. A farm and food systems expert presents ideas on Tuesday for how local food can become an economic development tool. Photo credit: LifeOfPix.com
March 30, 2015

BILLINGS, Mont. - Billings may be in the heart of farm country, but the region imports between 90 and 95 percent of its food. Harvard University economics professor Ken Meter, who has helped communities in more than three dozen states set up local food systems, says Billings isn't alone in that statistic.

Meter says what's different about Billings, and the eastern region of the state, is that there are people who want to change the situation. He's speaking tomorrow about how Montana food can be an economic development tool.

"Buying food from farms you know and buying it from processors you know, where you're really supporting with your consumer dollars a bunch of business relationships that keep money locally," he says.

Farmers markets are an example most people understand, but Meter says a true local system goes beyond that, and requires vision and investment in processing, production and distribution.

Meter adds, local food systems are attractive not only for producers, but for consumers because they get to be more demanding.

"If you have things you need that you're not getting, you can ask them and they can negotiate that with you," says Meter. "Instead of just being given a menu of choices someone else far away decides for you."

Meter's presentation is free and sponsored by the Northern Plains Resource Council and Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council.

Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MT