Spring is in full swing and Missoula County’s local farmers are in their greenhouses and fields working hard to grow food for our community.

Last year, COVID brought a lot of uncertainty to the beginning of the growing season. The pandemic caused many farmers to lose wholesale, restaurant, and large event produce sales and as a result, local food-producers had to shift into new sales markets.

While farmers are hopeful some of their usual wholesale customers will be returning this year, they are keeping some of their newly created revenue streams to ensure all customers can easily access local produce this year. For instance, if you’re more comfortable away from crowds but still want to shop at the farmer’s market, you can order online and pick up curbside from the Clark Fork River Online Farmer’s Market.

Many people experienced firsthand the empty grocery shelves when the mainstream food supply chain broke during the pandemic. This prompted a renewed commitment to supporting local food and farmers.

In response to farmers’ loss of wholesale business, the need to find new individual customers, and the demand for sourcing local produce, the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) launched the 2021 Local Food and Farm Passport.

The passport is a fun, comprehensive guide to Missoula, Lake and Ravalli County farm stands, farmer’s markets and local food businesses. Passport holders can collect Passport stamps at each stop and enter to win prizes. Some farms and businesses have also included special offers for Passport holders. Passports can be purchased on CFAC’s website.

One exciting Passport opportunity is Imagine Nation Brewery’s Farm Fresh Pale Ale. This beer is made from local hops from Bell Crossing Farm in Stevensville, and can be purchased from the brewery between June 10th and 12th. On June 11th, community members can enjoy the new local beer while participating in a fun community-based investing event, Farm Fresh Pitchfest.

At the event, participants listen to a local farmer pitch their business idea, then get the opportunity to invest in the business for as little as $25. This loan will be repaid, and the returned money can be reinvested in another local farmer if the investor chooses. This community investment process allows farmers to access no-interest loans through the Kiva loan process, removing barriers for beginning farmers to get their business off the ground.

Missoulians contribute to the strengthening of the local food system and local food options by investing in local farmers this way.

Introducing your family and friends to the joys of local food and meeting and talking to local farmers creates a strong sense of community and connection to the food we eat. A great way to do that is to embark on a local food adventure together.

Stay tuned this summer for the annual Bike to Barns event, happening this year from August 14th to Sept 30th. Register and receive a full bike tour packet, including meal voucher, farm stand coupons and scavenger hunt focused on exploring farms in the Orchard Homes and Target Range area.

Supporting local farmers and eating local food should be accessible for everyone, regardless of income or other socioeconomic factors. Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, can visit local farmer’s markets and receive Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) to put toward local produce.

The Clark Fork River Market, Missoula Farmers’ Market, and Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC) CSA all accept SNAP and offer DSD. To use SNAP at the markets, recipients simply visit the farmer’s market information booth, swipe their EBT card for both their SNAP and DSD benefits, and receive tokens to purchase local fruits, vegetables, herbs, vegetable plant starts and seeds!

SNAP benefits can be matched dollar for dollar up to $20/day in DSD, meaning a total of $40 of SNAP and DSD benefits to use at the market. The DSD program served 1,600 Missoula County residents in 2020, recirculating $110K back into our local farm and food economy.

Eating local food and supporting local farmers is good for the community, the environment and our bodies. Making a habit of purchasing local, meeting local farmers and investing in agriculture can shape a whole community culture over time. Participating in this cause has never been easier in Missoula and surrounding counties. Sometimes it takes a pandemic to bring us closer to our community, our food and our environment.

Jennifer Zaso is the Communications and Development Director at Community Food & Agriculture Coalition (CFAC). This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every week by Climate Smart Missoula and Home ReSource.

Sustainability Happenings

Here we offer ideas about sustainable ways to stay involved in our community. If you like these offerings, consider signing up for Climate Smart’s eNewsletter here. And sign up for the Home ReSource eNews via their homepage here.

Missoula’s Farmers Markets. Eat local now through the early fall! The original Farmers Market at the north end of Higgins runs every Saturday 8am-12:30 – information here. The Clark Fork Market is now located at 101 Carousel Drive near Dragon Hallow, runs every Saturday 8am -1pm – information is here.

Spring Shift and Transit Scavenger Hunt - Now through June. Mountain Line, Missoula in Motion and others are partnering to shift to sustainable transportation this spring, and beyond! Learn more and join HERE.

May is Bike Month! All month long, take part in events, workshops, art, prizes from local businesses, bike “celebration stations” with treats, and more! Hosted by Missoula in Motion and the Bicycle/Pedestrian Advisory Board. Check out all the happenings on the Bike Month calendar and follow their Facebook page.

Beyond Recycling: Making Zero Waste Work in Montana virtual series - May 26, 12-1:15pm. Join Climate Smart Glacier Country for the third installment of the Beyond Recycling series: Zero Waste Businesses. Featuring Xanterra and Flathead Lake Brewing Company, this session will give a firsthand account of how practices are good for business and provide tips for other businesses interested in bringing sustainability into their everyday operations. Register here.

BioChar Production Workshop - May 29, 10am-4pm. Hosted by MUD. This is an active, all-day in the woods workshop 20 minutes drive from Missoula. We will show you how to make biochar on a production scale using Wilson Ring-of-Fire Flame Capped Kilns. More info & registration here.

Zero Waste Missoula Meeting - June 2, 4-5pm. Home ReSource is reconvening the Zero Waste Missoula Community Group! Join us for the first meeting of the year on Wednesday, June 2 in the Home ReSource Community Room. The meeting will focus on the group’s history and purpose, along with setting goals and priorities moving forward. All are welcome! RSVP here.

Farm Fresh Pale Ale Beer Launch - June 10. This beer, made from local hops, is a collaboration between CFAC and Imagine Nation Brewery. Proceeds support CFAC’s beginning farmer and rancher trainings, food access programs, and farmland conservation. Available for purchase at Imagine Nation Brewery.

Farm Fresh Pop-Up Pitchfest - June 11th, 5:15-5:45pm at Imagine Nation Brewery. Support local farmers and learn about community investing at CFAC’s upcoming Pop-Up Pitchfest! Local farmers will pitch their business idea and ask for community support through investing in their KIVA loan. For as little as $25, you can invest in the farmer, get repaid, and then choose to repeat again in the future!

Fixit Clinics - June 19 & July 17, 11am-3pm. Save the dates for upcoming Fixit Clinics, hosted by Home ReSource! Bring your broken items and work with skilled repair coaches to learn how to fix them. More information and sign ups will be posted here.

Bike to Barns tour - Aug. 14-Sept. 30. Explore local farms and flavors on a 15-mile bike tour through Missoula’s Orchard Homes and Target Range neighborhoods. Check back here for more info.

Spontaneous Construction – Sept 18th. Missoula’s festival of creative reinvention! Reuse. Compete. Create. Enjoy! More info and team registration here.

Missoula’s third annual Clean Energy Expo – Sept 25. Climate Smart Missoula and Montana Renewable Energy Association are back to hosting this premier event at Caras Park. Save the Date.

Materials donations to Home Resource keep the wheels of reuse spinning in our community; and remember that everything you need to know about what to do with your unwanted stuff is at www.zerobyfiftymissoula.com.

Find more local activities and events at Missoulaevents.net and on Montana Environmental Information Center’s Conservation Calendar. And you too can help organize events – here’s the 2021 Calendar of Environmental Awareness Days – month by month break down of world day campaigns.