Study Considers Future Food Center
Most of us have a few favorite Montana-sourced food products we buy at our local grocery stores. It may be salsa, grass-fed beef, pickled vegetables, or a bag of carrots—but have you ever wondered where those products are made or packaged? You are now entering the world of commercial kitchens for food products.
Montana has a growing number of food entrepreneurs, product makers, and farmers/ranchers that need access to a commercial food center to store, clean, make, and package items for sale. To support these emerging food businesses, Bozeman nonprofit Prospera Business Network is leading a feasibility study to look at what it would take to develop a food processing center for Southwest Montana.
The Montana Department of Agriculture designated Prospera a Food and Ag Development Center in 2019 and this food center feasibility study is a part of Prospera’s larger mission to advance and support community-centered economic development in Southwest Montana.
“Our region has many ag producers, entrepreneurs, and business owners who make or produce a value-added agriculture product,” says Prospera Executive Director Paul Reichert. “The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted in the most powerful way the value of having locally sourced food. This feasibility study goes beyond just planning for conditions today but helps us set the stage for our long-term food security and a future that is more resilient and sustainable.”
The food center feasibility study, which will be complete in early 2021, is funded with support from the City of Bozeman and through a grant from the Montana Department of Commerce’s Big Sky Economic Development Trust Fund to assess the needs of farmers, ranchers, and food businesses. The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center at MSU, with its food safety and design expertise, will use feedback from prospective users to develop a preliminary facility plan.
Oftentimes, it is more feasible for startups and small businesses to produce their products in a shared commercial space. Similar food centers exist in Livingston and Polson, but the demand for space at those locations has exceeded capacity. This study will help determine what is needed to support local food businesses.
Part of the challenge in developing a versatile commercial space is that the local food supply chain has varying needs. Ranchers need a location to store and ship their products; farmers need to process or package produce for end-users like grocers, schools, or food banks; and value-added-product businesses need a location to make and package items for sale.
All of this means a food center needs a commercial kitchen space with ancillary features to store, package, and ship products.
“A feasibility study will help us determine the next steps for potentially creating a food processing center, which we believe could be a catalyst for innovation for value-added agriculture in Southwest Montana,” Reichert says.