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Food Matters Farm Viability And Food Consumption In Missoula County (Study Summary)


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Summary poster of a research project I co-authored investigating commercial food production viability (assets and barriers) and producer / consumer concerns in Missoula County, Montana

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Food Matters Farm Viability And Food Consumption In Missoula County (Study Summary)

  1. 1. Our Agricultural Future Effects of Development Warning Signs: Loss of Working Farms and Ranches OD MATTE Nearly 58% of the farmers and ranchers surveyed felt that their Missoula County is losing its working farms (includes O RS operations are affected by development trends. Of those F ranches). Consider these 30 respondents, 22 (74%) indicators from the 2002 U.S. considered those effects Census of Agriculture and other negative, four saw development government sources: as positive, three were neutral, and one was undecided. • Officially, there were 641 farms in Missoula County in “Growth is making the 2002, but 60% of them had place worth more, which sales of less than $2,500. makes it tempting to sell • Fewer than half of the farms for development. You just actually harvested crops from don’t make money from the land. The number of acres ranching, but love to do it.” where crops were harvested – local rancher dropped by 20% between 1997 and 2002. • Farms are becoming smaller in size. By 2002, the average farm size was 403 acres, a drop of 9% since 1997. • Over 10,000 acres were subdivided between 1990 and 2000. Flat lands previously in Highlights from the agriculture are among the most common areas to be developed. Missoula County “The biggest thing that weighs on my mind is that you have his grandfather, my These and other trends suggest that many of our smaller farms may Community Food Assessment grandfather, my dad, and now me. And I don’t want to be the be primarily rural residences with one that goes, ‘Okay, let’s just agricultural enterprises playing a fairly Why Food Matters cash out, put the money in the minor role. bank’ and you know, live high Food is a basic need. Yet, most of us know little about off the hog… I feel a sense of Hearing from Farmers and Ranchers where it comes from, the conditions under which it was responsibility… If you think produced, and how it got from there to here. To understand about all the blood, the sweat, Community food security the tears, the child death, cold requires that we have farmers and food issues in a community, we need to learn about the entire winters, hot summers, the farmland. Therefore, one of the food system from production, processing, and distribution to Depression, two World Wars, central aims of the CFA was to food consumption. One way to build our understanding is to all those things. That weighs identify what is needed to sustain heavily on me.” agriculture in Missoula County. We conduct a community food assessment. decided to ask farmers and ranchers – local farmer themselves, in order to draw on their experiences and knowledge. To do What is a Community Food Assessment? According to Farmers and this, we conducted a telephone survey Ranchers (N=52), to Protect with 52 farmers and ranchers (80% of A Community Food Assessment (CFA) is a systematic, Farmland, Missoula County... those we asked agreed to participate). participatory approach to investigating a wide range of local Doing right Is doing too To go more deeply into relevant issues and assets related to food and farming and the links amount much (7.7%) topics, we also conducted in-depth (7.7%) Don’t interviews with 13 other farmers and between these and community goals. Its broad purpose is to know (3.8%) ranchers, as well as a focus group inform and build support for change actions to make the with 11 Hmong vendors from the Missing community more food secure. (15.4%) Missoula Farmers’ Market. Here are Should do just a few of the many findings. more (65.4%) State of Agriculture in What is the Missoula County Missoula County Hmong Market Gardeners Community Food Assessment? As the chart below illustrates, the Members of the Hmong vast majority of survey respondents In spring 2003, University of Montana faculty initiated a community make up about 40% of think that agriculture in Missoula CFA to gain a better understanding of Missoula County’s all vendors at Missoula’s Farmers’ County is struggling. The source Market, and they contribute much of that struggle is often two food system. To incorporate community input, a diverse food to the Missoula Food Bank. interconnected problems: low steering committee representing 15 different organizations Gardening is interwoven into Hmong economic returns from farming and and interests in the local food and farming system came culture, and is an especially important development pressures. activity for families, including both together to plan the CFA. The committee identified the young and old. Some of those we Farmers’ and Ranchers’ Views following questions to investigate: spoke with are concerned about on the State of Agriculture in Missoula County (N=52) accessing land for their market • What is needed for viable and sustainable, commercial gardens, and they would like to see Don’t Know Missing (1.9%) the Farmers’ Market grow and extend (1.9%) Doing well food production in Missoula County? What are the its hours. (3.8%) existing assets and barriers to creating a more viable Just OK “[Gardening’s] important (21.2%) and sustainable production system? because for the Asians like us…It makes us happy when Struggling • What concerns do Missoula County residents of you walk through the gardens (71.2%) and see everything growing up, various income levels have about food? What do they it makes us feel so happy and perceive as the County’s food-related assets? excited. Also food for our Low Economic Returns families, we are the kind of Of those we surveyed, 98% said The committee also provided input into the research people who eat a lot of that the cost of producing their crops or livestock was a “very significant” process, and developed recommendations based on the vegetables, so that is important to us. So always or “somewhat significant” problem findings. UM undergrad and grad students were key we are reminded of what we when it comes to keeping their farm participants in the process. We highlight some of the findings did in Laos, its not that much or ranch in operation. For 88% of the respondents, recent prices for here. For more information, see Food Matters: Farm Viability different here.” their crops or livestock was viewed as and Food Consumption in Missoula County. – Hmong market gardener a problem.
  2. 2. What Do Eaters Think Community Food Security About Food? Understanding eaters’ food- Farmers and Consumers Share “Community food security is a condition in which all community related concerns and assets is a first step toward addressing community Goal of More Local Food residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate food security. To learn about eaters’ diet through a sustainable food concerns, we administered 624 system that maximizes community surveys to County residents with self-reliance and social justice.” various income levels and we Montana is among five other states conducted two focus groups with 19 whose relative hunger status has low-income County residents. worsened since 1996. A number of recent trends compromise food Food Quality Concerns Loom security in Missoula County: Large for Eaters • Only 30% of the students eligible Food quality issues such as food to participate in the Free and safety, pesticide residues on food, Reduced School Lunch Program eating organic, food freshness and in the County actually participat- nutritional value were the most ed from 1999 through 2002. important food-related concerns. Of all these issues, food safety is • About 6% of the County’s paramount on eaters’ minds. Almost population received food stamps 82% of survey respondents perceived in an average month; but nearly food safety as at least somewhat of a 15% of the population lived In today’s global food system, food changes hands about problem or concern for them. below the poverty line. 33 times between the farm and the supermarket shelf, and How Much of a Problem • Most emergency food providers is Food Safety for travels an average of 1,300 miles to reach our plates. in the County have seen an Survey Respondents? (N=624) Interestingly, in our study farmers and ranchers want to increase in the need for and use Very much Missing (.2%) shorten the distance between the field and the consumer. of their services. a problem Not at (42.6%) all a Seventy-one percent of the farmers and ranchers surveyed • In 2002, clients made nearly problem 31,300 visits to the Missoula (18.1%) are interested in marketing more of their produce and Food Bank; that number was up Somewhat livestock locally. Farmers and ranchers see advantages in 19% from four years prior (1998). a problem terms of profits, as well as increasing connections between (39.1%) Sixty-five percent of survey producers and consumers; however, they also see barriers in respondents identified that having terms of access to local markets and limited food processing enough money to buy the food they “I think a lot of pesticides and infrastructure. needed for themselves and their preservatives cause a lot of our families was at least somewhat of a health problems today.” At the other end of the food chain, 60% of consumers problem or concern for them. Forty- – consumer were concerned about how far away the food they eat comes three percent of survey respondents Tough Choices for indicated that they limit meals at least from. They expressed a strong interest in buying locally Low Income Residents some of the time due to a lack of Any discussion of hunger or food grown and produced food with 55% indicating they would money and approximately 35% insecurity must address the ability to like to see more local foods in the grocery stores. Consumers, skipped a meal at least some of the purchase food. Wages have not kept however, are also concerned about the price of locally grown time due to lack of money. up to cost-of-living increases in food. A major challenge is to devise strategies that meet the How Often Survey Respondents Missoula County. Close to 77% of the survey respondents identified that the economic needs of both farmers and consumers. Limited the Size of Meals Due to a Lack of Money (N=618) price of food they like to eat is at least 40 somewhat of a problem for them. Low-income respondents were more “It’s frustrating how… month and having to make tough 30 likely to consider the price of food too survival has become a money choices about whether to pay heating, 20 high, especially those foods they felt thing...the ones that have the medical and housing bills or buy were healthier and more nutritious. money can afford food.” food. Medical bills, rising utility rates, 10 – consumer high rents, underemployment, job 0 How Much of a Problem Never Rarely Some Most Always is the Price of Food for loss, and transportation costs were of the of the Survey Respondents? (N=624) The top cost-of-living concern for common themes addressed by time time Missing (.3%) survey respondents was personal participants that compromised their Very much a problem Not at wages being too low. Almost half of ability to eat well. (28.0%) all a the 19 focus group participants “Purchasing problem reported running out of food each “Which is more important, food would not (22.8%) having my house warm or be as much of a Somewhat having food in my belly and problem if a problem working wages (48.9%) my daughter’s belly?” – consumer were higher and health insurance “I have to eat foods that are “Well, do I put gas in the car and dental were very cheap like potatoes, or do I buy a gallon of milk?” available.” breads... a lot of that type – consumer – consumer of stuff.” – consumer CFA Reports Available Food for Thought and Action: Recommendations Food Matters: Farm Viability and Food The Steering Committee for the Community Food Assessment 1 Create a multi-stakeholder, food policy coalition that addresses community needs related to food 4 Develop a strong community- based food system that supports local farmers and ranchers, and Consumption in Missoula County. Presents studies designed to understand what it will take to keep agriculture going in and its University of Montana Missoula County and to document concerns and agriculture in a comprehensive, meets consumers’ interest in access consumers have about food. partners hope these recommenda- systematic, and creative way. to locally-grown food. tions will inspire community Grow, Eat, and Know: A Resource Guide dialogue about the future of food and farming in Missoula County. 2 Improve food quality and access to healthy foods at emergency food services and 5 Identify and assess strategies for protecting and assisting working farms and ranches, and for keeping to Food and Farming in Missoula County. Helps you locate organizations and businesses – everything from agricultural The first recommendation elsewhere in the County. agricultural land affordable for programs to food assistance agencies to a describes how the specific policies farming and ranching. diner’s guide for local and organic food. and activities in the other 3 Work with relevant advocacy organizations to create public education campaigns around the 6 Investigate further the extent to which transportation to grocery Our Foodshed in Focus: Missoula County Food and Agriculture by the Numbers. recommendations could be human right to food, and expand the stores and food pantries is a concern Uses existing statistical information to brought about. See the full report, current dialogue around cost-of-living for low-income residents throughout describe patterns in seven major areas of the Food Matters, for more details. local food system and how these have concerns to include food issues. the County. changed over time. For More Information Contact: Neva Hassanein at 243-6271 or Maxine Jacobson at 243-6384. Or, on the web, go to to download the reports.