University of Montana students predict the taste of the future

It’s the year 2100. They sit down at a restaurant for a meal that consists of black-eyed pea salad with fried quail egg, pupusa stuffed with bison, lentil cake, and braised goat stew.

Little did they know the menu was predicted 78 years earlier by students in the Soil-to-Soil: Food and Climate class at the University of Montana, where students learn about resilient food systems in the face of climate change.

On Friday, November 18, the students teamed up with UM Dining to take a group cooking class to actually experience guests’ planned meal 78 years from now.

“Climate change and an unsustainable food system are creating an unprecedented challenge — and a unique opportunity — to rethink what we eat and how we get it,” said Peter McDonough, director of the Climate Change Studies program and co-faculty member of the class.

During the semester, students in the experiential class took several field trips to meet with producers at farms, ranches, seed libraries, and other food centers to better understand Missoula’s food system and vulnerabilities. The course is also taught by Caroline Stephens from PEAS Farm.

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Students wrote research papers on various ingredients, plants, and other foods that are climate resilient and could potentially thrive in Montana in the year 2100, based on research from the 2017 Montana Climate Assessment.

In their work, the students chose an ingredient such as bison, prickly pears, lentils, potatoes and dandelions and argued why it would be a successful crop to brave the changing climate.

Experts from UM Dining curated a menu based almost entirely on these researched ingredients and met with them at the Missoula Food Bank and Community Center learning kitchen to sample the future.

To kick things off, the students made masa, a ground corn dough made from drought-resistant Montana Morado corn from Dave Christensen’s North Frontier farm. The light purple flour turned a deep plum color when saturated with water.

“Seeing the community grow with our local individual food systems and accessibility is super awesome and helps take some of the anxiety away and gives me more hope,” said Matthew Giacone, senior with a focus on environmental studies.

Giacone wrote his work on lentils because of their long history of being used as food around the world. In his research, he found that lentils are often used for baby food in African countries and are extraordinarily successful at returning nitrogen to the soil. Additionally, Montana is already a strong lentil producer, so it wouldn’t be too much of a leap for agricultural producers down the road.

Rachel Halperin, a third-year student at UM studying biology, researched dandelion because it’s extremely hearty and grows successfully in a variety of climates.

According to the Montana Climate Assessment, between 1950 and 2015, average annual temperatures increased by 2 to 3 degrees Fahrenheit across the state. By the end of the 21st century, these averages are expected to rise to 10 degrees Fahrenheit.

In addition, precipitation is forecast to increase in winter, spring, and fall, but decrease in summer.

“The issue of climate change is really very critical for the entire farming community,” said Dr. Luther Talbert, a spring wheat grower at Montana State University, in 2017. “Changing climate conditions are definitely a challenge for farmers, but they are very proactive and very used to changing their systems and their varieties.”

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