The Roundup: MFU Traveling Workshop Stopped In Sidney

by Nicole Lucina

The Montana Farmers Union (MFU) held a meeting on Thursday, June 10, at The Rod Iron Grill to discuss topics such as The American Rescue Plan, a new Meat Cooperative, food resiliency and much more.

Opening the meeting was MFU President Walter Schweltzer. After a brief rundown of recent events held by MFU and a bit of their history, Schwelter discussed food resiliency in Montana. According to Schweltzer, 50 years ago Montana raised and processed 70% of our own food. Today we only raise and process 10% of our own food.

COVID brought to light what a vulnerable state we were in regarding food security. With most of our food being imported and purchased from major grocery chains, it was difficult to keep shelves stocked in stores around the nation.

In rebuilding our food security we need to ensure our local food availability. Not only would we no longer have to rely on importing food, but it’s also a way to support local farmers and ranchers. Also, by staying local it’s a way to support your community during difficult times such as the pandemic.

In an effort to bring food security to Montana, MFU and their Special Projects Manager Matt Rains have started a MFU Meat Cooperative. This will include a mobile slaughter unit as well as a curriculum on meat processing.

It will be the first ever curriculum of its kind and will cover meat processing from harvest to retail. With the mobile slaughter unit and the curriculum being offered, it will help to offer a local processing option to producers throughout the state.

Not only will the curriculum cover harvest through retail, students will also learn about business management, regulations, and marketing.

This co-op will also allow ranchers the opportunity to offer their own meat products to retailers and in turn, giving them more control in how their business is done.

The new Meat Cooperative will give area producers a co-op to belong to as well as a chance to supply cattle. Butcher shops can also join the new co-op, which will provide them USDA inspected meat to process and sell statewide.

During COVID, consumers faced shortages of meat while the prices skyrocketed. Producers were forced to hold their livestock, ship them out further for processing and in some cases euthanize their animals. There weren’t enough places to process meat.

House Bill 336 would allow Montana to enter an interstate cooperative meatpacking compact. Sadly, as it stands now, a Montana meat processing plant is not allowed to sell meat across state lines, while a meat processing plant in Brazil can export to any state. Both meat-packing plants are held to the same standards regarding inspections.

These are some of the things that need to be addressed and changed to ensure Montana’s food security. Schweitzer noted the importance of community members reaching out to legislature to voice their opinions on bills such as this, as well as any other issues they may have.

The goal is to have the Mobile Unit operating by next spring, and the curriculum in place by the fall semester this year.

Schweitzer also went on to talk about C-PACE. This is a public-private partnership that would bring businesses, contractors, lenders, as well as local and state government. He explained that with inefficient buildings throughout the state, we’re faced with higher utility bills.

C-PACE would offer property owners the ability to take out loans to upgrade their buildings to be more energy efficient with things like insulation, new heating and cooling systems and more. This would also create more jobs in the community with contactors being called in for the upgrades. To bring C-PACE to Montana, the legislature is trying to pass SB 147.

Jesse Anderson, a representative from Senator Jon Tester’s office discussed the American Rescue Plan. The plan is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill. This provides funding for state and local recovery funds, education, healthcare, unemployment, childcare, individual assistance, transportation, agriculture and much more.