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Western Montana leaders pushing residents to eat healthier through cooking classes, community garden

The Arlee Food Sovereignty Committee is pushing neighbors to participate in local cooking classes, community dinners, and gardening classes
Arlee Fresh Food
Posted at 9:46 AM, May 15, 2023

ARLEE - Eating healthy is a lifestyle, and one Western Montana community is getting creative with teaching residents to prepare fresh meals.

Arlee is considered a food desert due to the town’s small, lone grocery store, according to Arlee Community Development Corporation (CDC) Food Sovereignty Committee Chair Shelly Fyant.

If locals want a bigger grocery or produce selection, she says they have to travel 15 miles out of town to get it.

“A lot of times people are so tired at the end of the day and it’s really easy to just go through the drive-thru and get cheap food fast so to be able to provide something like this is a treat for the community,” Fyant said.

The Arlee CDC wrapped up its most recent cooking class on May 8, 2023, at the Arlee Indian Senior Citizens Center, but leaders say there are more to come.

Shelly Fyant
Arlee is considered a food desert due to the town’s small, lone grocery store, according to Arlee Community Development Corporation Food Sovereignty Committee Chair Shelly Fyant.

The Arlee Food Sovereignty Committee is pushing neighbors to participate in local initiatives such as cooking classes, community dinners, and 14-week gardening classes throughout the summer to encourage healthier eating.

“We found that people didn't know how to prepare kale or eggplant,” she said. “Maybe that wasn’t something they grew up with, so we started cooking classes.”

It’s also an effort to meet new neighbors and continue the Native American tradition.

It wasn’t that long ago that we were introduced to foods that are foreign to us like flour sugar, those kind of things,” Fyant said. “And people are going for the inexpensive food to feed their families sometimes, so if we can help them to grow their own fresh veggies and fruit, then we’ll see positive results on their health outcomes in the long term.”

From cost efficiency to healthy eating habits, local chef Addie Steele said there are many benefits of cooking at home.

“It’s a skill that everyone should have,” Steele said. “Fast food and restaurants aren’t always going to be around, and it’s so much cheaper eating at home.”

Arlee Fresh Food
Eating healthy is a lifestyle, and one Western Montana community is getting creative with teaching residents to prepare fresh meals.

Native American Erica Shelby told MTN News she joined the community cooking class because she wants to learn new cooking skills and how to prepare fresh foods.

“You know, we really don’t know where our food comes from a lot of the time,” Shelby said. “So this way we’re getting our garden going and we’re getting a lot of things in the community going that help us all.”

For Blackfeet Tribal member Carissa Heavy Runner, sitting at a dinner table with family and having intimate conversations brings back childhood memories.

“This would be one of those examples [of] living off the land and community, family. You sit together, have a meal. As I was raised, that’s the big time where we all get to sit down together and share how our day is, good, bad things. We can come together and we expect that every day. Where we can sit and get together, share how our day was before we go off into our rooms and do homework.” said Carissa Heavy Runner.