Choteau Public Schools students on Monday enjoyed a Montana-grown spaghetti and bread sticks lunch.
The meal featured a new Montana-crafted food item, Montana Marinara, from Ronan, ground beef from Choteau, carrots from Ennis and flour from Wheat Montana Farms.
Choteau Public Schools’ head cook Cathy Campbell said she received a flier for the Montana Marinara sauce and decided to put it to use. “I try to use and promote Montana products,” Campbell said. For example, Campbell said this is the fourth year she has used beef from Choteau area ranchers in the hot lunch program.
Campbell built the menu for Monday’s meal using the marinara sauce and adding other Montana products. She created a colorful sign so the students would know where the ingredients from their meal come from. Campbell also talked with each age group as they enjoyed their tasty meal in the school cafeteria, sharing where ingredients were gown.
“Most kids don’t know where their food comes from,” Campbell said. “Hopefully this helps them to understand a little better and appreciate what they are eating.”
The Choteau school system feeds an average of 230 children, ages 0 to 18, including preschoolers, children from a daycare and school-aged children.
How is the Montana Marinara sauce from Ronan, Campbell was asked. “We will let the students be the judge of that,” she said, smiling.
Campbell said, if possible, she is happy to use and promote Montana grown products.
The flier Campbell received said the creation of the marinara sauces is the result of a collaborative partnership among the Northwest Food Hub Network, Montana Office of Public Instruction, and the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center. The sauce, made at the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, features locally-grown butternut squash, carrots, and onions for a nutritious and versatile product that is easily incorporated into existing school menus. The cross-sector partnership will bring healthy, fresh, nourishing food to Montana students as well as support the state’s small farms who have faced two difficult seasons because of COVID-19.
“Montana Marinara is a win-win-win product — it supports small Montana farmers, it brings delicious, sustainable, locally-sourced food to students across the state, and it celebrates our state’s history of supporting agriculture.” said Kaylee Thornley, cooperative development director of Mission West Community Development Partners and coordinator of the NW Food Hub Network.
The Montana Marinara product is designed to be affordable and accessible to all K-12 school districts that participate in the National School Lunch Program. The NW Food Hub Network, which recently received a $1 million Regional Food Systems Partnership Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, will source as many Montana-grown ingredients as the recipe allows from small, sustainable farms through the Western Montana Growers Cooperative.
Schools across the state will have the opportunity to order the product for the 2022-2023 school year, and it will be distributed to schools through Montana OPI’s existing distribution infrastructure.