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Oct 10, 2022

Farm to Food Bank: Behind-the-Scenes with Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN)

Our team recently hit the road with Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) to visit nonprofit leaders, food banks, food pantries, and farmers to craft a video about how they work together to get fresh, local products into the hands of Montanans in need. MFBN chose to travel to the Flathead Valley because of the depth of their partnerships and because it’s an agriculturally rich area where residents have a palpable passion for food.

Lorianne Burhop of MFBN and filmmaker David King interview Gretchen Boyer of Land to Hand at Wildcat Garden in Columbia Falls.

Between visits, we had a chance to sit down with Lorianne Burhop, Chief Policy Officer, and Wren Greaney, Advocacy Coordinator, to learn why connections between local producers and food banks are so important.

What prompted you to choose ‘Farm to Food Bank’ as the subject for your video?

We all saw the last couple of years as the supply chain broke down and grocery store shelves were empty. This encouraged many of us to re-think where our food comes from and how we access that food. You don’t have to look far to see all the food production happening right here in our state, and we recognize that we need to be more intentional about where we access food for the food pantry system. By purchasing local food, we create more opportunities for our neighbors to access healthy, locally grown food, keep the dollars that we are spending on food in our local economies and communities, save on transportation costs, and reduce environmental impact.  

Tell me more about ‘Farm to Food Bank.’

Farm to Food Bank efforts are happening all over the state. Food pantries and banks are sourcing local food (either through donations or often by purchasing) to distribute to families and individuals in their communities who need assistance. When they obtain local products, it creates a farm to food bank connection.

We want to bring greater awareness to these local efforts and make them bigger and more sustainable. By building a Montana Farm to Food Bank program, we can share resources and best practices, facilitate relationships, and increase available funding. Purchasing food from local producers often costs more, which is understandable – local producers need to be paid market value for their products to make a living. However, higher costs mean it’s harder for food pantries to make the local choice because they work with limited budgets. Our goal is to build an organized effort to increase capacity for local food purchasing and help food pantries across our state align their values of purchasing locally with their budget realities.

What does Montana Food Bank Network need in order to create a Farm to Food Bank program?

The crew visited Harlequin Organic Produce in Arlee to interview Co-Owner Kaly Hess.

Often funding is the missing piece — having an adequate budget to purchase food locally and pay a fair market value. Many producers donate products or sell at a reduced cost, which is amazing, and we’re grateful whenever that happens. However, we also want to be strong partners and pay for products at the value they are worth.

Agriculture is such a strong component of Montana’s culture and economy. We look to partner with the state to support small farms and producers who are the backbone of so many Montana communities and connect families struggling to make ends meet with nutritious, fresh local food that can be hard to access and afford. It’s a win-win. Many states have partially publicly funded farm to food bank programs. These are good examples for Montana to look at and consider how public dollars can address food insecurity and support local farmers and food economies.

How can people stay up-to-date about Farm to Food Bank and help food banks provide local food?

We share updates about our work to engage lawmakers on issues of hunger, including Farm to Food Bank, via email and text. Sign up to receive those updates on what you can do to support these efforts, by texting “MFBN” to 52886.

We hope people will follow us on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram). There people can see the great work happening across the state and get up-to-date information about how to help.

To support local food economies, please buy local Montana-grown products when you are able. To support your local food banks and pantries and the Montanans they serve, find your local organization at mfbn.org/get-help. You can volunteer or donate to help them feed the community.

Stay tuned for the release of the video this fall!