SIFT Partners for Food Co-op Benefit

By John Wallace, SIFT Farm Manager

Guest chef John Wallace of NCAT’s SIFT farm and Sara Edinberg working the Dish-ability food truck.
Guest chef John Wallace of NCAT’s SIFT farm and
Sara Edinberg working the Dish-ability food truck.
Photo: NCAT

This year I had the opportunity to partner with a local food truck called Dish-ability. The purpose of the food truck is to providing competitive, integrated employment opportunities to people with disabilities. Clients with developmental disabilities have the opportunity earn money and develop important work skills, whether it is preparing food in the kitchen, or working with customers and handling money. The food truck has gained a great amount of support within the Butte community and often pops up for events around town.

The particular event I was asked to help with was to benefit the Butte Food Co-op Seed Fund. The fund will be used to explore the feasibility of setting up a community-owned local food co-op in Butte. Being in full support of both initiatives, I jumped at the opportunity when asked to be the guest chef for the event. It seemed as if everything had come together, and this would be an excellent way to showcase SIFT produce, as well as my passion for using food to convey a greater message.

Pork Chile Verde and Mulligatawny Soup being sold for the event.
Pork Chile Verde and Mulligatawny Soup
being sold for the event. Photo: NCAT

The main message for this event was clearly “Support Local Food,” but I had more to say than just that. I wanted to show the array of seasonal ingredients that can be found in our region. The word local can be adapted just as we have adapted the crops that settlers, prospectors, and immigrants brought into the region. I am inspired when I look at the way cultures from all over the world have shaped local agriculture. From the Thai chili peppers to the lentils from the Old World, these foods bring flavor and history to the table. What is Montana agriculture anyway? Cattle wheat and barley may comprise a big portion of the market, but I would argue that those commodity crops are not expressive of who we are. For me, the food we eat helps define our identity, which lies in the traditions and cultures we have learned from others and passed on. I enjoy searching for rare ingredients grown locally, and I wanted showcase those ingredients to those who had come to support the food co-op initiative. And finally, I wanted to show that small scale can work in a big way.

Dish-ability client selling huckleberry cupcakes.
Dish-ability client selling huckleberry
cupcakes. Photo: NCAT

I have felt a strong personal responsibility to help create a prosperous local food network here in Butte. I think we can achieve this by teaching people to grow their own food and by creating avenues for disenfranchised residents to have access to affordable, healthy food. Though the SIFT farm donates the majority of the food it grows to the Butte Emergency Food Bank, the SNAP-Ed program, and the Belmont Senior Center, there are still major barriers to overcome. I have always said that the produce we grow does the talking, that it is our best advertisement for what we can do. By showcasing SIFT produce, we had the opportunity to show that small scale can work in a big way. You can grow these vegetables right here in Butte despite the short growing season and you can do it with very low-input costs.

I used carrots, onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, and squash all grown on the SIFT farm. This all went into a stew with Montana lentils to make for a Mulligatawny-style vegetable soup. The second dish was a Pork Chile Verde, made with local pork and chilies. To wrap it all together, we whipped up some cup cakes with locally roasted chocolate and fresh huckleberries. In just two and a half hours, we had raised close to $1,000. The night flew by with ease, thanks to all the preparation and help from the Dish-Ability clients, and my girlfriend Sara who volunteered for the cause.

Posted on: November 7th, 2019