Loco for Local: Going "Green" isn't Just for Your Vegetables

Going “green” to help our planet encompasses more than the usual mantra: Reduce, Re-Use, Recycle.  There are many ways to also EAT “green” that don’t have anything to do with the color of your vegetables!  What is “eating green”?  It’s all about finding food producers near your home that respect our environment, and the food they grow.  These producers do not use things like hormones, pesticides and antibiotics to produce their food, and they treat their land and animals with respect.  When we eat food from producers who are committed to caring for the earth and its animals by preventing chemicals from ending up in our soil and ground water, it helps the planet and it is called “sustainable eating”.

How do we practice “sustainable eating?”  The first rule of thumb is to find out where your food is coming from.   Looking at the ingredients on your food is important, but you can go one step further and look where it’s made.  Find local “Sustainable Producers.”  I have deep roots in certified organic products (carrying a seal that proves that the producer has followed the requirements of growth and production regulated by the government for organic production) and it is my “go-to” food of choice.  Organic grain should have grown in pesticide-free ground for a certain number of years, organic meat comes from animals treated kindly, kept in the open, and fed sustainable food, and not hormones for over-production and antibiotics because of over-crowding.  Supporting “sustainable, organic producers” is a great place to start because if you plan on ever eating a banana or having a cup of coffee you can’t eat 100% local.  For many things I revert to my “organic” and “fair trade” roots.  But with the hike of gas prices bringing up the price of food I started to become more interested in eating local.  If the food has to come thousands of miles and use up a lot of natural resources to get here then just being organic may not be as “green” as you think.  You can go “greener!”  There are many towns right here in Montana and Wyoming that produce good organic and “sustainable” foods.   Be a “locovore” and support local producers.

Where does the average beginner get “sustainable food” here in Billings?  You can do a pretty good job finding local products for most things we eat.  A few beautiful Sundays ago I ended up at our Billings Co-Op grocer, The Good Earth Market, for a local food producers gathering!  Producers from all over Montana came to sample their products and discuss their sustainable practices with interested consumers!  Places like Big Timber’s B Bar Ranch, and Bridger’s Wholesome Foods have excellent, affordable meats, as well as Tumblewood Teas (also in Big Timber) who provides fair trade and sustainable processed teas.  Red Lodge, Missoula, and the Flathead Valley (to name just a few) have organic and sustainable dairy.   Polson, Harlowton, and Sheridan are excellent sources for breads and grain.  Right here in Billings (among other places) you can find some of the best sustainable vegetables and prepared foods!  Everything from Martinson’s Ranch Chocolates in Huntley, Wine from Yellowstone Cellars and Winery in Billings, and beer from Red Lodge Ales, to almonds from Sprouted Almonds, LLC in Story, WY, can be found in our own back yard!  You can pick up a map of local producers from the Good Earth Market to locate local food sources.   Many stores now carry organic foods, like Costco and Wal-Mart, and places like the IGA and Albertson’s have “sustainable” meats and organic items as well.  Montana is really doing it right!  We have the Darigold producers who offer “planet friendly” dairy products and process it right in Bozeman, as well as exciting advancements taking place in Lewistown at North Frontier Foods with their extraordinary black/purple corn!  So to find local producers in Montana, and restaurants who use them, it’s as easy as going to the Good Earth Co-op, Montana Harvest, Bonanza, Mary’s Health foods or the new Natural Grocer.  You’ll find a lot of the food your family loves made sustainably right here in Montana—both affordable and good for the planet.

Are you the adventurous type?  There are other really creative ways to “eat green” for the adventurous Montanan.  I spoke to Barbara Baresh (who works with Mary Danly at Danly Farms right here in Laurel) about the Community Supported Agriculture (or CSA) Program that Danly Farms created for Montana.  They have many acres of garden that you can buy “shares” of.  They grow, pick, and clean the vegetables for you, and depending on whether you own a whole or half-share, you can come and get your veggies fresh from the farm!  You need to sign up by March to start getting vegetables in May, but it is an ingenious way to get fresh, diverse, organic, Heirloom vegetables at a great price.  They also have chickens and eggs and will process everything for you!  (Information is available at 406-628-6290 or danlyfarms@gmail.com)

Murry Lyda, a Yellowstone County Master Gardener, told me about an exciting concept called “community gardening” where people who love to garden and have the time, but have no space pair up with people who have plenty of space but maybe don’t have the time or desire to create and care for a garden!  There can be multiple families involved in the community garden (as we are trying at Blue Creek Elementary School) and everyone wins with fresh vegetables and education regarding sustainable practices being the prize for all!

It’s easy to EAT “green” in Montana!  I find it fun and exciting to discover all the beautiful sustainable producers in my area and cook foods with these products.  For the month of March you could try a “sustainable” diet and learn a little about what it means to be a “locovore” on your own.  It’s easier than you think and it will help you and your family to build a healthy planet and a healthier you!

Information on joining a community garden or starting one is available at the City of Billings website under key words “community gardening.”   You can also find plenty of information about planting your own garden from Montana State University “MontGuides” at www.msuextension.org