RONAN, Mont. - As a consumer, you’ve probably heard the term “value-added,” which describes enhancements to a product or service that provide the customer more value than normal. Agricultural producers and companies have done this for years, making food more nutritious and convenient, and lately, increasing the emphasis on food being locally grown.
On Main Street in Ronan, Montana is the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, where value-added and locally grown are at the heart of their operation.
“Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center does a lot of value-added agriculture processing, mainly for the Western Montana Growers Co-op, they’re our core partner. We’re very unique in that we have this amazing facility … the whole process that we can do here, in value adding to agriculture and working directly with producers to do that,” said Jan Tusick, Center Director at the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center.
Locally grown Flathead cherries are finding a value-added extended life, thanks to The Center’s equipment and expertise.
“We are working on a cherry dehydration project today ... and behind me, they’re racking up cherries to go into a dehydrator. These dehydrated cherries will be going out to the schools in Montana as snacks,” Lead Processor, Joel Carlson said.
Increasingly, Montana schools are relying on food produced in Montana.
“We have worked right alongside Office of Public Instruction to start looking at what food products could we add Montana agriculture to,” Tusick said. “We were so lucky, that we had met Cherrywood Orchard the year before, … and they were so excited to be part of this…”
“Mission Mountain has been able to process our cherries for two years. They have washed, pitted, dehydrated, frozen, bagged our cherries; and we’ve also been able to connect with food processors who utilize …Mission Mountain & all of their resources, has been really helpful, because it’s very close to the orchard and so many growers, like myself,” Tiffany Sybert, Owner of Cherrywood Orchard LLC said.
The Center hopes its relationships with producers only keeps growing.
“… We have already a slate of other products that we’re looking at. We want to do the Montana Breakfast bar … It’s got Montana cherries in it, it’s got Montana oats in it, it’s got Montana honey in it … It’s a bar that can meet that ‘grab and go,’ because a lot of these kids are going to school and they haven’t had breakfast.”
“You know, as a mom, feeding school age children nutritious food has really been a passion … and having this OPI project so close to home has been a great opportunity for us.”