The tagline for the festival is “Films about how what we eat matters for people and the planet.” The festival is part of the larger Community Food Campaign sponsored by the Northern Plains Resource Council, of which the YVCC is an affiliate.
Cori Hart, chair of the Community Food Campaign, said the three films “engage different aspects of the food system” in the United States.
“Dirt! The Movie,” which will be shown on July 12, examines how agriculture, industry and urban development have endangered dirt, the “skin of the earth.” It also goes around the world, visiting visionaries who are trying “to repair humanity’s relationship with soil,” as PBS put it in one description of the film.
Local Food Challenge
Speaking of access to local food, the Northern Plains Resource Council is hosting the first statewide Montana Local Food Challenge, which began on Friday, July 1.
Anyone can participate by going to MTlocalfoodchallenge.org, signing up, filling out a survey and then tracking your daily spending on local foods and your spending on establishments that serve or sell local foods.
The site also has tips on where to eat and shop for groceries locally, where to buy local ingredients and why it matters. If you prefer paper forms, write to Maggie@northernplains.org or call 248-1154.
Up for screening on July 19 will be “Food Frontiers,” a documentary that showcases six projects across the country that aim to increase access to local food. Because “Food Frontiers” is only half an hour long, Hart said, a couple of other shorts will be shown along with it.
The final film, “Food Chains,” will be shown on July 26. According to the film’s website, it “reveals the human cost in our food supply and the complicity of large buyers of produce like fast food and supermarkets.” It focuses on a group of Florida tomato pickers who organize “to ensure a dignified life for farm workers and a more humane, transparent food chain.”
Local food will be available for purchase before each screening. For the July 19 screening, Hart said, they are hoping to get permission from the city to close the street in front of Art House Cinema, 109 N. 30th St., and to put on a pop-up farmers’ market and to have vendors serving dinner foods.
The doors will open at 5:30 each night and the films will begin at 6:30. There will be short introductions to each film and a few remarks afterward, Hart said, but no organized discussions. Instead, the Art House will stay open an extra half hour and people will be invited to talk among themselves.
The Community Food Campaign was organized around the idea of expanding access to local foods in the Yellowstone Valley.
The YVCC originally approached Art House Cinema about simply renting the venue for the film festival, said Caitlin Hart, membership and events director for the cinema. But Hart (no relation to Cori Hart) and Art House founder Matt Blakeslee both were interested in going beyond that.
“Matt and I just loved the whole idea of having a festival devoted to local food,” she said, so the Art House offered to be a co-sponsor of the festival by donating use of the venue.
From the start, Caitlin Hart said, Art House Cinema has been interested in getting involved in projects, “especially when it is an event that just overall benefits the community.”Yellowstone Valley Food Hub, which would be a conduit between regional food producers and local wholesalers, retailers and institutions like schools and hospitals.
One of her main tasks has been to complete a consumer survey that will be used to gauge whether a food hub is needed and would get enough use to be sustainable eventually.
There are numerous examples of such hubs around the country, Hart said, including the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center in Ronan, which collects, processes and distributes meats and produce up and down the Flathead and Bitterroot valleys of Western Montana.
Hart said that operation is approaching sustainability: now in its fifth year, it relies on grant funding for only 10 percent of its budget.
Many institutional food programs would like to have access to locally produced food, Hart said, but they need “large, steady, consistent supplies. … We’re just trying to connect the dots.”
“What we’ve seen so far is that one of the biggest opportunities is actually in poultry,” she said, but there is no local commercial supplier of outdoor, free-range poultry, and nowhere to process poultry.
She said one solution might be to have local producers form a cooperative and use a shared facility to process poultry. That is already being done in Hamilton, in a partnership between Living River Farms and Homestead Organics Farms.
Hart visited that processing plant and says its developers are willing to share their knowledge and their blueprints.
Still another idea is to rent space and establish a cold storage unit for keeping quantities of frozen meat too large for a restaurant or even some institutions. Hart said a possible relationship with the Billings Food Bank is also being explored, the idea being that extra refrigerator space could be used for storing carrots and potatoes between growing seasons.
As for finding fresh produce between outdoor growing seasons, Hart said her group is looking into greenhouses as well as the possibilities for aquaponic facilities that grow plants directly in water, fertilizing the plants with fish and then harvesting the fish, too.
The consumer survey is expected to be wrapped up in August, which will move the food hub campaign to another level, if there is enough support for it.
“We’re trying to figure out what works and tailor it to the Billings market,” Hart said.
Film festival details: Tickets are $15 per night (includes one free drink) or $35 for all three nights. For students, seniors and military, prices are $10 or $25 for all three nights. Children under 16 free.