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Montana Ag Network: 'Marinara Madness' brings healthy food options to rural schools

Posted at 7:06 PM, Apr 30, 2023

It’s more happiness than madness but it’s still Marinara Madness.

A campaign to bring locally sourced foods to rural school districts in partnership with OPI, Mission Mountain Enterprises in Ronan, and Northwest Food Hub.

Choteau Schools was chosen as a tasting location to gauge the response from students to their product.

The Choteau Bulldogs, are no strangers to the Farm to Table method.

“I think kids need to know where food comes from. It doesn't just come from the grocery store in a carton that you open and eat. We try to educate them too. A lot of times we do well, let them know where the food has come from,” explained Cathy Campbell, Head Cook for Choteau Schools.

Five years ago, Cathy and her staff in the kitchen took to hear that children in the United States and right in their own community were being served copious amounts of processed foods.

Campbell, coming from a beef family sought out her resources in the agriculture community and was able to get 5 beef a year donated, as well as the periodic bison and pig. All of these are turned into homemade lunches for students at Choteau Schools.

“It takes more work, but we feel our students deserve better.”

The Farm to Table effort continues to grow in Choteau with the implementation of Montana Marinara.

“It's very challenging to locally procure food for school meals, creating a product that can be versatile and use USDA commodity foods and local produce. And it can be distributed through the OPI, school nutrition distribution routes,” said Linda Cleatus, Community Outreach for Montana No Kid Hungry.

OPI uses USDA canned Tomatoes that are sent to Mission Mountain Enterprises in Ronan where the Marinara Sauce is made. The pasta sauce is made from locally sourced onions, butternut squash, safflower oil, and carrots. From there it is distributed throughout the OPI nutrition programs.

“It creates a new market for local farmers, being the school nutrition market, and farmers get paid a fair price,” Cleatus explained.

It’s safe to say after on lunch, a mixture of first through third graders, it’s kid approved.

Montana No Kid Hungry brought a poster-board split into three categories for kids to vote on if they enjoyed the sauce.

One young man told MTN News, “I like the marinara sauce because it spreads over your noodles.”

The Choteau Schools Cafeteria has its head screwed on straight, teaching children where their food comes from. More importantly, it’s a model for rural school districts around the state.

“Across the state, they are one of those of the gold standard,” said Cleatus.

Campbell deemed Marinara Madness a success.

For more information on Montana Marinara visit,

For other Montana Marinara Resources visit,

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