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Mont. food growers see farm-to-table trend

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Photo -   Jeremy Plummer pushes a beef front quarter out of the freezer along a track leading to where rolls of sausage are seen hanging at Lower Valley Processing Co. in Kalispell, Mont., on June 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Flathead Beacon, Lido Vizzutti)
Jeremy Plummer pushes a beef front quarter out of the freezer along a track leading to where rolls of sausage are seen hanging at Lower Valley Processing Co. in Kalispell, Mont., on June 29, 2011. (AP Photo/Flathead Beacon, Lido Vizzutti)
Entertainment,Food and Drink

KALISPELL, Mont. (AP) — The farm-to-table movement is growing across the Flathead Valley and Northwest Montana. That's the takeaway from a panel at the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce's monthly luncheon on March 26 at the Red Lion Hotel, which included representatives from the local food industry.

More than 200 people attended the event to dine on local food and hear a progress report from area food producers, including Lower Valley Processing, Kalispell Kreamery and the Western Montana Growers Cooperative. Representatives from Kalispell Public Schools and Kalispell Regional Healthcare were also present.

"The farm-to-table movement is beyond trending now. It's becoming more and more popular in our community," said chamber president Joe Unterreiner. "I think people understand that there is a demand for local products."

According to a local food map distributed by the chamber, there are more than 50 farms, orchards and dairies producing and selling across the Flathead Valley. One of the largest is Kalispell Kreamery. The creamery opened in 2010 and is now selling its un-homogenized, all natural milk as far as Missoula and Bozeman. Owner Mary Tuck said events like the one hosted by the chamber can help local producers meet consumers and advocate for their industries.

"It's not just about promoting my product, but promoting the local food movement," Tuck said.

The creamery currently produces about 1,200 gallons of milk a day and Tuck says one of the biggest challenges is making people understand that quality takes time. Unlike a larger company, the Kalispell Kreamery doesn't have a massive warehouse or thousands of cows to produce or store an endless amount of milk. Tuck says the dairy has about 200 milking cows now and hopes to have another 100 in the coming years, which would meet local demand.

Another local producer, Lower Valley Processing, supplied the luncheon's main course, slow roasted prime rib. Owner Wes Plummer says it's tough to compete with large food producers, but consumers enjoy quality and diversity.

"I can't just sell hot dogs, I have to be diverse, I have to sell jerkies and other products," Plummer said, adding that Lower Valley has upwards of 200 different products.

Plummer agreed that the local food movement in Northwest Montana has only grown in recent years and local food sells itself because it tastes better.

"We haven't had to go out and pound on doors (to sell), people are coming to us," he said.

Unterreiner said the Kalispell Chamber of Commerce actively promotes local food, including distributing the "Farm Hands" map, which can be found at the chamber's office. The chamber also has a map of local breweries, wineries and distilleries. Unterreiner said the March 26 luncheon attracted a larger than crowd than usual.

"Based on the (turnout) we saw here today, we'll be asking ourselves how we can support this movement even more," he said.

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