BOZEMAN – Montana State University now has a full-time person working to bring more Montana food and products to campus.
Nicole Morgan is the new Montana-Made program manager, building on efforts that began 10 years ago and were coordinated entirely by students working part-time.
Morgan is currently writing procurement standards, consulting with the campus sanitarian, meeting with MSU staff, and visiting current and potential vendors. All of that will make it easier to grow the program, partner with as many vendors as possible and further expand its education and outreach efforts, Morgan said. A big push now is coming up with “extremely accurate and relevant numbers, so we can set viable goals.”
Determining baseline figures is complicated because University Food Services includes dining halls, retail operations in the Strand Union Building, concessions, the bakery, and catering, Morgan said. Each area has its own manager, staff and purchasing methods.
Another complexity involves the definitions of terms like local and regional food, organic and natural foods, Morgan said. “Local,” for example, generally means 100 miles from home, while “regional” means 300 miles from home. Although 100 miles from Bozeman sounds local, it could be in another state.
Despite the challenges, Morgan said she and MSU are committed to increasing Montana food and products on campus. Todd Jutila, director of University Food Services, said the farm-to-college program began as a way to support local farmers, ranchers, processors, manufacturers and distributors. It is also designed to raise awareness about the importance of local food systems and enhance the economic, environmental and social health of communities throughout the state.
Morgan said MSU now has more than 50 Montana vendors, and the number is growing daily. A few of the current products are Montana Monster Munchies, Pioneer Meats, Meat Montana and Bausch Potatoes. Current vendors come from all over the state, ranging from Bozeman to Glendive, Kalispell, Lincoln, Missoula and Whitefish.
The fact that MSU hired a full-time Montana-Made program manager and the activity that went on before she arrived indicate that MSU is serious about Montana food and products, Morgan said.
“It has been incredible to see the amount of work that everyone has taken on to make sure the program isn’t just working, but growing,” Morgan said.
Jutila said, “Having Nicole in this position full-time will really give us the ability to streamline the program, connect and partner with the community and enable us to grow the program in directions that we have been unable to do so in the past.”
Morgan started her job in November. Before coming to MSU, she worked in management at the Copper Whisky Bar and Grill in downtown Bozeman and in various positions in Seattle that focused on sustainable foods and local purchasing. She worked, for one, in the nonprofit sector of Sugar Mountain, which is located in Pike Place Market. Part of her job was going into area schools, where she talked to children about calories, ingredient lists and other factors involved in making healthy food choices.
Morgan was born in Seattle and spent much of her childhood in Japan, California and the East Coast. She graduated in 2007 from Cornish College of the Arts in downtown Seattle and recently married Andrew Morgan, whose family lives in the Ruby Valley of southwest Montana. Andrew Morgan is an MSU student in mechanical engineering, working on his second bachelor’s degree.
Her degree in fine arts and her background in education and business prepared her well for her new job, Morgan said.
“There are very few avenues that I have found where I can use all my skill sets to the max,” Morgan said. “This position is really unique. It uses marketing, purchasing and procurement, and education. I get to use all three of those.”
Evelyn Boswell, (406) 994-5135 or firstname.lastname@example.org