Montana State University

MSU's University Food Services now buys nearly one-fourth of its food from Montana

March 26, 2012 -- Anne Cantrell, MSU News Service

Nearly a quarter of the food MSU's University Food Services buys each year now comes from farmers and producers in the state. The increased percentage purchased reflects a relatively new emphasis on local food at the university, brought about in part by student wishes. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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MSU News Service
Tel: (406) 994-4571
Those who wander into one of Montana State University's dining halls may notice a change is in the air, and it's not just the scent of the freshly baked bread on the menu.

Nearly a quarter of the food MSU's University Food Services buys each year now comes from farmers and producers in the state. The increased percentage purchased reflects a relatively new emphasis on local food at the university, brought about in part by student wishes, according to Todd Jutila, director of Food Services.

"When we've surveyed the students, local food has been high on their wish list," Jutila said. "They've let us know that it's important."

In 2004, the university developed the "Montana Made Program" program, designed to increase the amount of local products purchased. Since then, the percentage of annual products University Food Services buys from Montana farmers and producers has steadily increased to a record 23 percent in the last fiscal year. Last year, the program also marked a milestone when it surpassed the $1 million mark in local products purchased.

Jutila is proud of what he calls the remarkably high percentage of food purchased in state, given that many institutions have a goal of 20 percent locally purchased by the year 2020.

And, Jutila expects the percentage of food purchased from farmers and producers in Montana to continue to increase. He also attributes the university's local food commitment to a widespread belief that supporting local farmers and producers is important.

"In earlier days, most food came from local farms and producers," Jutila said. "As the population grew, it became easier and cheaper to go to mass producers, but now we're reverting back to buying as much as you can from locals. As time goes on, the availability of local products grows bigger, too.

"We're proud to be keeping more dollars in the community," he added.

Local food tends to cost more, Jutila said, but a perceived higher value and quality of food makes the additional cost worth it.

"It's difficult to site exact numbers because the sources often vary, but any price variance of local foods is outweighed by the health benefits, smaller environmental impact and the positive effect on the local economy," Jutila said.

In addition, some costs can be recovered through savings on transportation, since products purchased closer to town aren't as expensive to ship. For example, recently the university began purchasing food from Towne's Harvest Garden, MSU's teaching farm that is located one mile west of campus on the Montana Agricultural Experiment Station and MSU Horticulture Farm.

University Food Services, which manages all food operations on campus, including residence hall dining, retail operations, catering for special events and event concessions, frequently assesses its offerings to better meet the needs of campus, Jutila said. Other recent University Food Services initiatives are:

Local Food Fair
MSU's sixth annual Local Food Fair is set for Tuesday, April 17. The fair includes guest speakers, discussions and a local food showcase, where vendors, distributors and producers showcase their products.

"There is an important educational aspect to this fair," said Stephanie Hanson, marketing and sustainability manager at University Food Services. "A lot of people don't understand the benefits of local food, and this fair provides great information."

At the start of each fall semester, University Food Services asks the parents of current MSU students to submit their son's or daughter's favorite recipe. Food Services then produces a cookbook with the recipes it receives. (The cookbooks are available for $10 at the cashier's office in Hedges Complex or by emailing Stephanie Hanson at Food Services also selects several recipes to feature in the dining halls during the week leading up to Parent-Family Weekend. And, several recipes are chosen to become part of the rotating menu in the dining halls.

"A lot of students say this is very impressive," said Michael Kosevich, general manager of University Food Services.

Late Night Bites
MSU students requested that the dining halls be open later in the evenings, Jutila said, so Food Services responded with a new program, "Late Night Bites." Previously, the dining halls all closed at 7 p.m. Now, heavy snacks such as sandwiches, hot dogs, nachos, wraps, soups and pizzas are served in Harrison Dining Hall from 7-10 p.m., Sunday through Thursday.

"The program has been very popular," Jutila said.

Faculty/staff meal plan
Earlier this semester, University Food Services announced a faculty and staff meal plan, which allows MSU employees to eat at discounted prices in the three residence dining halls during breakfast, lunch and dinner. The plans are designed to be flexible, so that faculty and staff may use their plans for meals with colleagues, family members and other guests. Plans may be carried over to the end of the academic year.

Each faculty and staff meal plan includes $25 credit to be used at any retail location on campus, such as the Union Market or Bobcat Grill. A 10-meal plan is available for $92; a 15-meal plan is available for $123; and a 20-meal plan is available for $155. Faculty and staff may visit for more information.

Contact: Todd Jutila, (406) 994-2661 or