The Yellowstone Valley
Northern Plains Resource Council and its local affiliate, the Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council, have partnered to create the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub. The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub is a business that collects, processes, markets and distributes food products from local farmers and ranchers. The Food Hub will serve the Billings area with local food starting in the fall. The Food Hub works for consumers to deliver fresh, local food and for producers to save them time and resources. Check out more details on the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub here.
“I’m a native Montanan and have always had an interest in agriculture,” said farmer Brittany Moreland in Luther, Montana.
Brittany grew up in central Montana with summers spent helping on the family grain farm. Despite Brittany’s exposure to agriculture, she went on to study at the University of Montana. “I wanted to be a lawyer and change the world so I got a degree in philosophy,” said Brittany. “But I couldn’t stop thinking about this theme of what makes for a good life and what I wanted to look back on and be proud of...”
Brittany ultimately decided producing food was where she would find the most purpose in life. “It seems to me farming is the most noble thing that I can do. Feeding people. And it puts so many skills together. You have to be observant, creative, and you live with the seasons even while ironically growing indoors,” said Brittany.
Today, Brittany and her husband Ben Sechler run Elevated Harvest in Luther, Montana.
Brittany takes pride in the products she produces. “I think that everyone should have access to good, nutritious and healthy food. It should be a basic right.”
Brittany grows mainly herbs, leafy greens, lettuce, kale, things that you could grow in rows on the ground, but she grows them vertically, hydroponically and indoors. Her production methods reflect the difficulties of growing in Luther. “We live in Montana and we're at 5,500 feet and our growing season is about 100 days,” explains Brittany.
Brittany grows her produce in a forty-foot shipping container converted by Freight Farms into an insulated hydroponics pod.
“We would not be able to grow year round unless we used something like these shipping freights,” said Brittany.
Despite Brittany’s complicated growing environment, she doesn’t use any pesticides. Although pesticides would make growing her greens easier, she sees a market that wants pesticide-free food. “Not using pesticides is one of our challenges, but at the same time, people in Montana completely support our pesticide-free food.”
The difficulties of producing leafy greens and vegetables in Brittany’s area has deterred other growers and created a niche market for her produce. Even with Red Lodge and Absarokee, Montana just a few miles up the road, the surrounding areas don’t have the population to support even her relatively small scale of production. Brittany is looking to Billings as a more stable and developed market. At an hour-and-a-half away, Billings is just a little too far to make quick trips to drop off lettuce and herbs.
The Yellowstone Valley food hub is a wholesale option that would alleviate all the stress of Brittany marketing her produce to the largest population center in the state.
“With the food hub, I have the ability to just drop off produce once or twice a week, I know it's going to be kept fresh. Someone else is managing that for us, and they can handle all of the logistics of marketing, selling and distributing.”
By acting as a center for several local farmers and ranchers, food hubs streamline getting local food into customers’ hands, including larger institutions like restaurants and hospitals. Food hubs also use their connections within the community to market fresh, local products as well as keeping food until it’s convenient for the customer to come pick it up.
“The food hub will allow us to completely streamline, where we can have access to all these smaller restaurant accounts or grocery accounts or more families and get them fresh, whole, pesticide-free produce that was harvested the day before. And we can get into that Billings market and have it distributed in an efficient way -- an efficiency that I wouldn't be able to achieve alone,” said Brittany. “The food hub will have a general manager who is just as passionate about our food as we are, and [be] able to deliver that customer service and connect with our clients.”
By allowing much more access to local food, changes in purchasing habits can ripple through a community. “When we get this food hub going, Billings will have an agricultural revolution. I think the food hub will create more farmers, more food for Billings and the Yellowstone Valley to eat locally. The food hub is an investment in our future.”
Brittany has a strong sense of pride in being a Montanan. “Being a Montanan, not only do we have the values of open space and outdoors and neighborliness and traditions, we also value hard work. We're able to work this space in Luther while creating value. It's not just recreating. It's providing for our family. To me, that also is the core of being a Montanan.” In addition to the hydroponic produce, Brittany and Ben also raise pigs, have a newly established apple orchard and keep bees.
Elevated Harvest reflects those Montanan values of hard work and providing for people. “By being able to farm here, we're able to preserve those Montana values of open space, hard work and agricultural production.”
When Brittany decided to change her career path to farming, she knew she was going to be working towards something profound. “I don't know exactly what it is about food that's like the secret sauce that brings community together, but if you can get people around a table and put good food in front of them, they'll work together, they'll connect, they're happier. I mean, it’s also food justice. Everyone should have access and the right to clean, healthy food. If you can do it locally, it's like icing on the cake.”