The crowd inside the Wilma Feb. 23 was surprisingly small, given the nature of the discussion at hand. The Big Sky Documentary Film Festival had just wrapped a screening of Cafeteria Man, which chronicles Tony Geraci's fight to revolutionize nutrition in Baltimore's public school system. Geraci himself took the stage to talk about classroom farms and local produce. Roughly 50 people stuck around.
The next morning, hundreds of students from the Missoula County Public Schools filled the Wilma's seats for a second screening of Cafeteria Man. When Geraci stepped to the mic, the buzz of adolescent murmurs turned to raucous cheers. One student asked about rooftop gardens. Another said he felt powerless to change the food system.
The film's director, Richard Chisolm, knew the answer: Do what the students in Cafeteria Man did, he said, and make the school board eat from your trays.
Geraci knew how to sow the seeds of change, too: Be reckless, he said. Be rebellious. "If you want a better school system, make a better school system," Geraci told the youthful masses. "You're the boss."
Since stepping down as food service director for the Baltimore public schools, Geraci's taken to the road slamming pre-plated lunches and plugging fresh, locally grown alternatives. He's currently overseeing the country's largest school system merger, in Memphis, and making sure nutrition doesn't suffer as a result of growth.
Ed Christensen, MCPS's assistant food and nutrition adviser, says Geraci's revolution isn't as simple as going to the nearest farmer for carrots. The cost restrictions alone are daunting. There's no way MCPS can afford Montana ground beef at $5 a pound, Christensen says, when the district has under $3 million a year for its entire food services operation. Missoula doesn't have the value-added processing facility necessary to adequately prepare local fare either. "You can't just turn a switch and everything's good," he says. "There's a lot of pieces that have to be in play."
Still, MCPS has already made strides in local food, Christensen says. About 90 percent of MCPS's baked goods are made with flour from Wheat Montana. All its apples come from the Bitterroot Valley.
"MCPS food service is going to be seen as one of the pioneers in local foods," he vows, "at least in the state of Montana."