The journey our food takes, from a tiny seed to the hearty meal on the tines of your fork, is no easy task. Every stop on the road to food business success is wrought with challenges. There are many that don’t make it, and those who do would describe themselves as surviving rather than thriving. When it comes to keeping Montanan’s fork tines full, surviving just isn’t good enough.
In an effort to mitigate the challenges farmers and food businesses face, the Montana Food and Agriculture Development Center (FADC) Network was created. Today, nine centers spread across the state form the FADC Network that operates as a cohesive mainstay of our state’s food system. Since its inception in 2009, Montana’s FADC Network has helped countless food and agriculture businesses succeed with assistance ranging from funding and business development, to product development and industry training.
As one business owner put it, “We literally couldn’t do what we do or have accomplished what we have without the FADC centers. From product nutrition testing to assistance with grant opportunities, exposure to new markets, assistance with market procurement, assistance with business planning, business plans and cash flows, and more, our success is directly tied to the FADC centers.”
Take Chef Nic Bryce (pictured left, photo by Nathaniel Bailey of Edible Bozeman), owner of Grotto Meats in Bozeman, for example. He worked with Prospera’s FADC to turn a side project into a successful, full-time, brick and mortar business. Through Prospera business development courses and 10 hours of individual, no-cost business counseling, Bryce’s fledgling business survived the pandemic and will acquire its USDA meat plant licensing this year. “You do feel like you’re a part of the network, and they have your back and want you to succeed,” says Bryce.
Kacie Sikveland, owner of 41 Grains in Circle, received grant application assistance from the Great Northern Development Center FADC. Sikveland used her Growth Through Agriculture grant award to purchase a grain cleaner and mill to create a more efficient process for cleaning and grinding wheat and chickpeas into flour. The equipment upgrade decreased processing costs and has allowed 41 Grains to produce more gluten-free options, giving them a stronger and more competitive edge in the market while supporting their family farm.
Additionally, the FADC Network has made huge strides institutionalizing local food programs to bring Montana-grown food to the Montanans who need it most, such as schools, hospitals and other public institutions, through programs such as Farm to School, SNAP, and No Kid Hungry.
The Montana Marinara project is just one example of a successful campaign to bring locally-sourced foods to Montana institutions. It combines Montana-grown veggies with USDA canned tomatoes to create a healthy, versatile, and delicious tomato sauce for K-12 public schools. The locally sourced recipe is produced in Ronan at the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center FADC with no preservatives and minimal processing. Procuring ingredients from Montana farms ensure freshness and safeguards the health and nutrition of Montana’s kids while connecting students with their local food system. Each pound of Montana Marinara provides $0.33 to the Montana farmers that grow the ingredients.
Whether it is a new farmer’s fantasy, a restaurant owner’s daydream, or an aspiration to serve the institutions that support our communities, the FADC Network delivers the necessary resources to achieve a thriving food community. But in these ever-changing times, it is fundamental to assess the needs of food community constituents so we can better support the industry that is essential to keeping our plates full. If you are a food or agriculture related business, we need to hear from you.