One of the great things about living in and visiting Montana’s Yellowstone Country in the summer is that you have the option to eat locally. With ranches and farms surrounding small towns, and residents raising greens, veggies, bees and chickens in their backyards, it’s easy to find local produce and meat.

Why eat local?
It’s fresher. Imagine the taste of a tomato straight off the vine. Delicious, no?

But aside from taste and freshness, you’re saving money on shipping costs. To pack and transport ten miles takes a truck, some boxes and some organization. To pack and transport vegetables across the country or even the world takes … well, a little bit more time, money, manpower and fuel to do just that.

Farmers Markets
Virtually every town in Yellowstone Country has its own farmer’s market (likely because there are many farms scattered all around the area). Find out what day of the week your farmer’s market is on, then drop by with a reusable bag and a bit of patience. Why patience? Because farmer’s markets tend to be crowded with vendors and customers, alike. And while a lot of items are yummy to eat, there are also things from local artisans to sift through. Think of your weekly farmer’s market as an experience, not a trip to the grocery store.

And, if you’re close to a bigger town, the farmer’s market may have local restaurants and caterers serving up some of their delicious festival fare, plus live music. Not only do you do your produce shopping, you and your family get dinner and a show, all for the price of a few heads of lettuce and homemade coffee cake.

Community Supported Agriculture (CSA)
If you’re not much of a farmer’s market fan (or you don’t have time to go every week and search for produce), try some of the other ways to get fresh produce and pastries that support local farmers, bakers and artisans:

Bountiful Baskets is a local group that serves most of the mountain west (including Yellowstone Country) and is chock full of produce and baked goods, jams or jellies, and other non-traditional items that are locally made. If you’re around one week a month or don’t have time to get yours every week, consider sharing with another family.

There are also CSAs that you pick up from the farm or the farmer’s market, like Three Hearts Farm and Gallatin Valley Botanical, which provide produce for large swaths of Yellowstone Country. Fresh lettuce, root vegetables and the occasional strawberry pint (for eating or for pie) is my favorite way to start off my Saturday.

Local Meat
It’s well known that Montana is known for its meat. And yet, if we aren’t careful, the meat that we get in Yellowstone Country—while raised right around the corner—may have been processed in a totally different state.

Enter Stillwater Packing Co., the only meat processing facility in the state of Montana that is USDA certified (meaning it can take cows from Montana, process them in Yellowstone Country and distribute the meat in Montana and all other 49 US states). All of the other processing plants in Montana can only distribute within Montana, which means often ranchers will outsource their meat to an out-of-state, USDA certified processing plant.

Not only does Stillwater Packing Co. process meat and ship it to retailers, they have their own little retail shop out in Stillwater County called Emmett’s Meats. Here, you can get a taste of freshly processed and packaged meat and if you’re from out of town, even bring it home to friends and family for a real taste of Montana meat. They have everything from beef to bison, chicken to pork, jerky to jellies and all of the in between, too.

Happy eating. See you at the farmer’s market this summer.