Healthy School Foods On the Hill

by Patti Armbrister, AERO Board Member

Four Montana representatives visited their Members of Congress in Washington, D.C. along with nearly 90 people from around the country who traveled to the nation’s capital to advocate for healthy school food on Tuesday, February 23rd.

The team of advocates from Montana met with Representative Zinke’s staff, Senator Daines’ staff, and Senator Tester and his staff on Capitol Hill.

Congress has been working on legislation to reauthorize the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs and several other child nutrition programs. In January, the Senate Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan child nutrition reauthorization bill, officially called the “Improving Child Nutrition Integrity and Access Act of 2016.”

The team from Montana asked our Congressmen to support legislation to increase funding for school kitchen equipment improvements, as well as USDA Farm to School Grants for Farm to School programs, and to support science-based nutrition standards for healthy school food for kids.

photo (12) menu DC

PEW Charitable Trust Menu at the Senate. The Hinsdale School Food Service provided their best Montana Lentil Hummus recipe, and the Boulder School’s favorite kale chips were enjoyed on the menu in the DC.

All children deserve to grow up healthy, and school meal programs are successfully providing millions of students with nutritious meals and snacks each day. Research shows that the standards are working: students have many healthy options now, and they are choosing and eating more fruits, vegetables, and nutritious entrees. School cafeterias are classrooms where students develop skills and habits that help them lead healthier lives. We demand the best for our kids in every other classroom; the cafeteria should be no different.

The healthy school food advocates encouraged our Congressmen and Congresswomen to support School Kitchen Infrastructure Needs and Training for School Food Service Personnel by co-sponsoring the School Food Modernization Act (S.540/H.R. 3316). Most districts in our state and across the nation have significant needs for new kitchen equipment and more training opportunities to prepare their workforce to serve healthier meals and snacks. Since 2009, Congress has recognized the need for providing schools with additional resources for school kitchen equipment. USDA Equipment Grants are working at providing schools with equipment like combination ovens, refrigerators, freezers, and other equipment that allow schools to better serve nutritious meals.


Patti Armbrister (FFA, Agriculture Educator and F2S Coordinator in Hinsdale), Maria Pace (Superintendent of Schools in Boulder), Senator Jon Tester, Ginny Kirby (Bigfork School District Food Service Director) and Kirsten Gerbatsch (FoodCorps Montana Alumna) meet with Senator Tester in his office in Washington D.C.

About the Advocates

Patti Armbrister – Patti is the FFA Advisor / Ag Ed Teacher in Hinsdale, MT. She works closely with the food service staff and writes grants on their behalf. Patti’s dedicated to galvanizing positive change in Hinsdale. She has been influential in the school garden program, outdoor education, local food, serving garden produce in the school meals, and reducing food waste.

Ginny Kirby – Ginny is the Bigfork School District’s Food Service Director. She started in Bigfork three years ago and when she jumped into her role, she really embraced sourcing local foods from the Flathead Valley – everything from local beef to Flathead cherries.

Maria Pace – Maria is the Principal and Superintendent of Boulder Elementary School District. She is a true champion of local and healthy school food options. Boulder has been a FoodCorps service site for 4 years and Maria has been incredibly supportive and involved as a co-site supervisor.

Kirsten Gerbatsch – Kirsten was the FoodCorps Montana Fellow for 2 years, coordinating the statewide FoodCorps program, which is part of a national service organization focused on farm to school programs. Now as a FoodCorps alumna, she wanted to make sure Montana was part of the national conversation about healthy school food. Passionate about policy advocacy at all levels, Kirsten works for the Montana Democratic Party and M+R Strategic Solutions.



Registration for April Workshops is Open!

Growing Food Businesses Workshops April 2016SMALL

Register here!

Montana’s food entrepreneurs have gained important new opportunities resulting from changes in state law passed by the 2015 Montana Legislature. This April, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO), along with the Montana Food and Agriculture Development Centers, will co-host four workshops around the state that will explain these new opportunities and their governing regulations.

Following a two-year study of the state’s food laws and much public comment, Montana’s retail food laws have been significantly rewritten, including changes to allow cottage food operators to make low-hazard food products in their home kitchens, and sell them directly to consumers year-round in any direct venue. The law also clarifies and offers additional opportunities for temporary and mobile food service operations, for farmers direct-marketing their raw agricultural products, and more.

These five-hour workshops will be held in four locations: Bozeman on April 5, Billings on April 7, Arlee on April 13, and Great Falls on April 15. The workshops are for retail food businesses and entrepreneurs, direct-market farmers, market managers, state and local health officials and educators, business and economic development professionals, local food non-profits, and folks with cottage food business ideas. Each workshop will provide participants with the information needed to succeed at starting or expanding a food business, as well as help ensure the law’s successful implementation.

“A real bonus of these workshops is the chance to network with other food entrepreneurs, food regulators, economic developers, and more,” according to Jennifer Hill-Hart, Executive Director of AERO, the workshop sponsor.

Presenters will include staff from the Food and Consumer Safety Section of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, and AERO.

Registration is free and lunch will be provided. Register at Each workshop is limited to 30 people. For more information contact Corrie Williamson of AERO at (406) 443-7272 or

These workshops are funded by AERO and grants from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Growth Through Agriculture Program, the High Stakes Foundation, and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture, U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program.