The decline in local farming and the rise of the long-distance tomato are familiar stories. But a new report on the western Montana “foodshed” adds compelling new data on the local impacts of our increasingly outsourced food production.
Using a community-driven research method, University of Montana graduate students and faculty gathered census and public-record data and used it to track patterns in the local food and farming system. They found that total farm acreage, and number of farms and food manufacturers in Missoula County have dropped significantly since 1950, even as area population has exploded; most farm operators make most of their income in non-farm jobs; the average age of farmers is rising; and residents are becoming more reliant on food that’s shipped over 1,500 miles or more. The good news: The number of small farms and farmers markets is increasing-as they have in other partsof the Northwest.