Food For Thought: Feeding Missoula Community at UM Gardens

Lettuce tell you about UM Gardens

What should I eat? If our readers are anything like us, this question is on your minds more often than not. Food is one of the ways people show love, share culture, and bond with family and friends. It is an integral part of all of our lives, even for those who simply see food as a means of survival. Yet many people are disconnected from their food, either socially or geographically.

In the 1950s and 60s, the use of fertilizers and pesticides on crops caused one of the greatest increases in food production ever seen. This phenomenon, known as the green revolution, increased the prevalence of mass agriculture. Mass agriculture increased food supply in many places, but also had unforeseen negative impacts on the environment. Due to the looming threat of climate change, and mounting evidence of the adverse impacts of human interference on our lands, sustainability has become a new goal for many food producers.

Figuring out how to feed the population, while minimizing negative impacts on our environment, is one of the most challenging questions of our time. The University of Montana provides access to fresh food for roughly 10,000 students (UM, 2020). With this volume of students consuming food, you may be wondering what UM is doing to make their food systems more sustainable.

UM Gardens is one of the projects at UM that focuses on sustainability and promotes healthy meal options for students. The UM gardens grow close to 3500 lbs of fresh produce. What cannot be grown in the gardens is sourced locally whenever possible, which supports local agriculture. Focusing on local venders reduces the carbon footprint of the UM dining system and feeds the local Montana economy. 

Anastasia Orwiszenski is the UM gardens manager taking a holistic approach to supplying meat and produce to the dining facilities on the UM campus. “The UM dining is an independent dining facility,” Orwiszenski explained, “most dining facilities on college campuses are contracted out to big corporations like Delaware North Company or Aramark, which are public companies that have to constantly be increasing profit for their shareholders.” Being an independent private dining facility has allowed for the buying process to be adapted to fit the demand of the students and of the chefs. “One of the chefs really wanted okra, so we were able to grow it” Orwiszenski said, “another wanted edible flowers for salads, so we have a variety here that also provide pollen for our bee hive.”

Being multi-purpose and collaborative is a common theme at the UM gardens, and plays an important role in creating the longevity needed to maintain sustainability programs on campus. Intercropping is practiced at UM gardens, a technique where different plants share the same bed. We see this as a metaphor for the interconnectedness of the UM food system, between the university students, chefs, and the local Montana farmers. The gardens are part of a larger effort on campus that includes maintaining native landscapes, constructing LEED certified buildings (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), and producing energy on site. These practices are intended to help UM reach its goals of social, environmental, and economic prosperity.

Overview of one of the UM Gardens, located behind the Lommasson Building on the UM campus. If you are interested in a volunteering, a tour, or more information about the UM gardens project contact:

 PC Chloe Boucher.

Gina Belair