Abundant Montana grew out of AERO’s community food system work in the 1990s and began as a print directory in 1995, linking Montanans with local food across the state. In addition to producer stories, listings and recipes, the directory had tips for chefs wanting to purchase direct from a farmer in the days before widespread email and internet; and ride shares for delivering food across the state in the years before our current in-state distribution networks.
While the directory was reprinted every 3-4 years, the listings lived in a searchable database, making it possible to easily sort and share information with others. For example, MT’s Commerce Department uses Abundant’s Farmers Market data to annually update its Farmers Market list – a precursor to our current IMAP capacity!
By 2010 the directory had transferred to a digital platform. Funding for its upkeep and promotion came from grants and donations.
When the pandemic hit our shores in 2020, AERO sought and received funding to expand the directory’s functionality in ways that could help relieve the impact of the disruption to Montana producer market channels and to hyper rural community food access. We added an online sales platform, a real-time Food System Exchange, and up-to-date covid resources and “best practices” for front line food sellers. We also enhanced the website’s functionality to make it more user friendly for both listers and consumer visitors and, with assistance from community allies, updated the database listings.
In the fall of 2020, Hopa Mountain convened food access stakeholders across Montana to look deeper into gaps in local food consumer knowledge and Montana’s current food asset maps, and invited the group to explore a successful dynamic, revenue-based model out of Michigan, Taste the Local Difference. The model provides a 2-pronged approach to filling the gaps: a coordinated digital and print marketing campaign that educates consumers about local food, and affordable marketing technical assistance and services for allied (“partner”) local food and farming businesses to help maximize their success.
Under the TLD model, this two-pronged approach has grown TLD’s digital local food asset map to more than 4,000 enterprises, enhancing partner business sales on the order of 7% annually, and increasing Michigan’s local food sales by $13 million annually.
Key to the model’s success is the participation of Local Food Coordinators distributed around the state, engaging community stakeholders and supporting partners where they live, and sharing information relevant to their regions back to the TLD communication staff who can then share that information out across the state. This dynamic relationship that the Local Food Coordinators provide, fills a key gap in networking and communication between community food system stakeholders in our large and rural state.
With overwhelming support from the food access stakeholders exploring the TLD model, including financial support from Hopa Mountain and Mission West Community Development Partners, AERO stepped up to pivot Abundant Montana to this larger platform. We call this pivot Abundant 3.0. The pivot included taking a white label license from TLD, giving us access to a robust back-end system, marketing templates, and consultation support.
In addition to financial assistance, the following food access stakeholders (we call them our community collaborators and allies) have played key roles in supporting Abundant Montana’s pivot, some as financial modeling and fundraising mentors, and some as strategic alliance mentors. In addition, Hopa Mountain, Montana Food Bank Network, Farm Hands Nourish (soon to be Land to Hand Montana), Harvest of the Month, Team Nutrition, and CFAC (Community Food & Agriculture Coalition) were instrumental in helping expand and update the Abundant MT directory listings. To this original cohort, we are proud to add Montana Farmers Union as a generous on-going sponsor of Abundant Montana. We thank you all!