By Maryssa Fenwick
Living in Butte, Montana has its perks; you are centrally located with beautiful outdoor activities surrounding you such as mountain biking, rock climbing, and whitewater kayaking. Likewise, within an hour you can find yourself at the State’s capitol, enriching yourself with local and state history. Now let’s not forget about the stellar music scene less than two hours away in both Missoula and Bozeman where you can catch your favorite bands in intimate settings. I have come to enjoy, and appreciate my place in Butte, with only minuscule complaints. For me, the biggest complaint being the lack of accessible and affordable local food. Many of us are aware of the benefits of eating locally sourced food, such as the increased nutrient value, supporting the local economy, promoting a safe food supply, and peace of mind knowing where your food is coming from. These reasons are just the beginning of how eating locally sourced food can benefit yourself and your community. The problem many communities face, including Butte, is the lack of opportunities to buy local. Safeway, Vons, Walmart and other big box stores typically do not source locally, allowing their prices to be lower than your smaller, family owned grocery stores. As seen throughout the United States, this pushes local stores out of business, leaving rural communities with little to no opportunities to buy local. Of course, when summer rolls around farmers markets are great ways to support farmers, and eat fresh, local food – but what about in the off season? Think Co-Op’s!
Co-Op’s are rising in popularity throughout the country, and provide communities with solutions to eating healthy, local food. A Food Co-Op is usually defined as a community-owned grocery store specializing in local and organic produce, with a focus on inclusion. Not all Co-Op’s focus on being affordable and inclusive to all demographics within their community, but in my opinion all should. Eating healthy should not be a privilege. I have been lucky enough to be included in the planning process for the future Butte Food Co-Op! As an Energy Corps member I do not make decisions influencing the future of the Co-Op, but I am able to sit in on meetings and provide support when appropriate. A Co-Op in Butte would provide residents with fresh, healthy food, and the peace of mind knowing where their products are coming from. A large focus of the Butte Co-Op would be to source locally, creating a relationship between farmers and our community. Of course, not all of the products in the store can be locally sourced, such as fruit grown in warmer climates, bulk nuts, and specialty items, but the overarching goal of a Co-Op in Butte would be to connect buyers with local producers. Down the line, when the store and its members are established, the possibilities for events, products, and programs is exponential! There is a lot still to plan, and excitement to grow within the community, but simply fostering the idea of having a people focused, locally sourced grocery store in Butte gets me excited for the future of my rural city!