Local Food Benefitting All Our Montana Neighbors

January 2023 – Many of us think of the food donated at the Pantry or through stores and food drives as the primary source of food offered to customers in the Pantry, and it is. However, did you know that local food purchased from Montana growers and producers is becoming an important and increasing source of nutrition in the Pantry for Grocery Share and for Kid Packs?

In recent years, we have been working to increase the locally grown or produced food we share. This year, local producers supplied beef jerky from Hi-Country Snack Foods in Lincoln and Kracklin’ Kamut snacks from Big Sandy Organics for the Kid Pack program. Chickens from Elk Creek Colony in Augusta became part of holiday meals for those unable to cook turkeys. Closer to home, Johnson’s Nursery and Gardens in the Helena valley provided a variety of non-GMO and pesticide-free produce throughout the growing season for our Grocery Share program. Processed beef came from cattle in White Sulphur Springs, and barley and other grains from Timeless Seeds in Ulm are available on Pantry shelves.
Nutrition is key to creating a hunger-free, healthy, and thriving community, so offering quality food to those we serve has become central to our programs. We also know that some of the highest quality foods we can offer come from right here in Montana, making the decision to incorporate local products easy.

Community partners like St. Peter’s Health, Lewis and Clark Kid’s Nutrition Coalition, The Helena School District Wellness Committee, Head Start, and Helena Community Gardens share this goal. They are teaming up with us to increase the nutritional value of food in our joint food share programs. Our goals also focus on partnerships beyond our Helena community, including food pantries across the state. Purchasing local food in larger quantities at a lower cost benefits both the producer and the pantries.

The Covid pandemic showed us just how fragile our food system can become. Sourcing food was more challenging due to shortages and transportation difficulties. Building solid relationships with Montana producers means we have much closer and more reliable access to food for our community if hardships come again.

This year’s Legislature is likely to consider a bill to establish a Montana Farm to Food Bank program. The program, funded through grants, would help create a new market for local producers, support local economies, feed friends and neighbors, and get fresh products to communities.

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