Eating local is the challenge

During a barbecue to kick off the Montana Local Food Challenge in Lions Club Park on July 31, volunteers with the Cottonwood Resource Council laid out a delicious potluck, offering a prize to the contribution with the most local ingredients. Cindy Webber served a dish using Montana lentils, and Betsy Baxter prepared a salad featuring sugar snap peas from the Livingston farmers market and mint from her garden.

This month the Cottonwood Resource Council is challenging residents of Big Timber to eat more local food, but that’s not always easy to do. Sweet Grass County produced $33 million worth of agricultural products in 2012, but often those products get shipped out of state and don’t make it onto dinner plates in the county.

“It is a challenge,” said Betsy Baxter, a volunteer who helped organize the month-long event. “For our region I think you have to go beyond the boundaries of the county”

The Cottonwood Resource Council, a local affiliate of the Northern Plains Council, is asking participants to eat at least one local product every day, and also has weekly challenges such as buying food directly from a farmer. The challenge’s website defines local as anything produced in Montana, or a neighboring state for participants living near the border. 

Most people in Sweet Grass County could probably eat at least one Montana product per day pretty easily, but Baxter admitted that going farther than that requires a little extra effort.

“It is going to be more expensive because the local producer can’t capture the economy of scale,” Baxter said. “It’s sort of like going to Gusts instead of buying something on Amazon.”

Cindy Webber, another member of the group organizing the challenge, said eating local also makes it easier to know how the food was grown, and can reduce the environmental impact of food by minimizing the number of miles it travels. But her most compelling argument is one everyone can get behind: It tastes better.

For more of this story, pick up a copy of this week’s Big Timber Pioneer on newsstands now, or subscribe online at

PHOTO CAPTION: Rodney the pig poses in front of Brian Engle and Mesa King at the Sweet Grass County Fair. Rodney was sent off to Pioneer Meats to be transformed into local food. (Photo courtesy of Laura Nelson)

By MATT BLOIS / Big Timber Pioneer



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