Local food for thought 

Missoulians want to eat local food, and Missoula area farmers and ranchers want to sell it to them. Sounds like a match made in heaven, but cost, availability and market friendliness tend to get in the way of a good relationship.

That’s one of the findings in the latest report of the Community Food Assessment (CFA), a project UM and community members began two years ago to study Missoula County’s food system and find ways to improve it. The report, Food Matters: Farm Viability and Food Consumption in Missoula County, is the culmination of surveys and interviews with more than 700 local farmers, ranchers, Hmong farmer’s market vendors and food buyers.

The report is packed with findings about the state of food in the Garden City: For instance, more than 70 percent of farmers and ranchers surveyed would like to sell more locally and, similarly, 55 percent of consumers want to buy more locally grown food.

The report’s major recommendation is the creation of a food policy coalition to develop a stronger community-based food system.

“We’ve got a water board, a land-use board, but there’s no entity that focuses on food issues in a comprehensive way,” says Neva Hassanein, an environmental studies professor who helped oversee the project.

Bonnie Buckingham, Missoula Food Bank’s program manager and a CFA steering committee member, says one of the coalition’s goals would be to “find more linkages between farmers and consumers.”

Food Matters found that having enough food to eat was a problem for 31 percent of the Missoulians surveyed, while 13 percent had to reach out to food pantries to keep food on the table.

“If we can get low-cost, high-quality food to consumers in Missoula, they won’t have to come to the food bank,” Buckingham said. And farmers would benefit, too.

A meeting to get the ball rolling on the coalition will take place Dec. 6 from 7–8:30 p.m. at the Missoula Public Library. The report can be found online at umt.edu/cfa.

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