Jill Owen, Mountain Front Market founder and owner, has always had an interest in good food and she loves to eat well! Growing up in PA, she and her sister were enslaved to their family’s large garden helping with weeding, picking rocks, harvesting, and processing all that the garden produced. While it felt like a violation of the child labor laws, Jill is grateful for her parents’ commitment to growing their own food and their use of organic methods. She spent many hours of her youth reading Rodale’s Organic Gardening Journal in the water closet.
As a young adult, Jill’s love of eating led to digestive problems, initiating a lifelong pursuit to understand more fully the connection between good food and health. She has experimented with a variety of nutritional regimes and continues to joyfully expand her knowledge of the magic relationship between happy plants, animals, and humans in vibrant ecoysystems and communities.
While living in rural West Virgina in the early 1990′s, Jill began a food buying club with friends. Moving to Choteau in 1999, she had to take up the challenge of finding good food in a new home. She connected with an organic pork producer and coffee purveyor. In order to purchase these products in bulk for a cheaper price, Jill joined together with a few friends and then delivered their products door to door. It was at this time that she realized that one of her lifetime goals was ”to start a good food store.”
One cannot live on organic pork and coffee alone, so Jill found herself traveling to Great Falls, Helena, or Bozeman once a month to purchase the other organic food items. Not long after, she learned about a food buying club in Conrad that ordered organic fruits and vegetable from Spokane Produce. Once an account was set up (Choteau Food Co-op),she gathered enough interest to put together the first $200 minimum order. Over the years, she tried various ways of managing the buying club and moved the delivery/pick up location several times, including into her basement.
Between 2000 and 2006, the Co-op evolved from a door to door delivery service into a “store” that was open one day every 2 weeks, and where “co-op members” could buy coffee beans, fresh organic produce (some local), local eggs, cheese, honey, frozen meat, and baked goods (including Henry’s cookies.)
While managing the Co-op, Jill held onto the dream of having a little store in Choteau. The opportunity for making her dream a reality came in 2006 when Kip Mortenson offered her a space in his building across from the Old Trail Museum. With the support of her husband, Russ, Jill took the plunge. After three years of business, Jill and Russ bought a building on Main Street and moved Mountain Front Market to its current location.
Jill admits that in Mountain Front Market’s first year, she often asked herself, “What have I done?!” She had traded the freedom and flexibility of seasonally patrolling the backcountry for the Forest Service to run her store. Thankfully, every year MFM has seen a bit of growth – mimicking the national trend of the organic, natural food industry. Jill no longer looks back, but excitedly forward to the challenges and opportunities ahead.
Jill thanks all of the folks who have supported her efforts over the years (and dreamed right along with her) to bring good food to Choteau and to those who are new to the dream, she welcomes your energy and ideas.