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Food supply chain is broken

Why you should care about food security

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News from the Montana Farmers Union

MONTANA — The problem of food security is nothing new. “I found it to be very stressful when going to the store,” said Sheena Annala who is a mother of three from Great Falls. Just like many consumers Annala experienced a threat to food security during the pandemic. 

American farm policy encourages large corporate farms and centralized processing facilities. Fifty years ago, Montana raised and processed 70 percent of its food. Today, it raises and processes less than 10 percent of its food. Most ag products are shipped 1,000 miles to corporate monopolies to be processed, packaged and shipped back 1,000 miles to be put on shelves of corporate food stores. 

“It does not make sense that our regional grocery stores are rationing dairy and meat products while family farms are being forced to dump milk and euthanize livestock,” said Walter Schweitzer, president of Montana Farmers Union. “The farmer, consumer, grocer and restaurant owner are all feeling the effects of a broken food system.”

Food security is defined as having reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable and nutritious food. The speed by which basic essentials were depleted highlights the reality of lean supply chains. This has caused a disruption in supply. Because of the disruption, farmers have too much of their production left on the farm at the same time consumers are being rationed. 

2j’s Market in Great Falls is still feeling the effects of the pandemic. “We will admit just like any other grocery store that we had a lot of blank space on our shelves,” said manager Graham Kerwin. “It took longer for us to get the usual things and we still haven’t gotten some of them.” 

Eric Bergman owns and operates Groundworks Farm in Fort Shaw. Corporate consolidation, he said, is a real problem that affects everyone. The pandemic has made the problem more obvious. “The more we give away the power and responsibility to fewer-and-fewer hands, the more we are concentrating risk, and so, COVID illustrated, for example, illness of meat processing workers and the failure of a large distribution system to get animals from farm to processing to people.” 

According to the Montana Food Bank Network, one in nine Montanans struggle with hunger and nearly 37,000 children live in food insecure homes. Gayle Carlson, CEO of the Montana Food Bank Network said the supply chain for meat products became unreliable adding to the already existing problem of food insecurity. “We had real challenges getting meat into our food bank, and a lot of that is – even though the meat is cultivated here – they have to ship it out of state for processing,” said Carlson.

The solution to a more resilient food system is to build and support a localized food system. Consumers have the potential to play a huge role in making a secure food system reality. “We should demand and accept the responsibility of paying closer attention and engaging more in how we as citizens create and operate economies particularly with food,” said Bergman.

American farmers have become good at producing cheap food commodities for the world, but, ironically, the COVID-19 crisis demonstrates that we struggle to feed ourselves. History has proven that we can reverse this trend. Learn how you can help build a more resilient food system by visiting foodsecurityforus.com.

Montana Farmers Union is a statewide grassroots organization working for family farmers, ranchers and rural communities through conferences, scholarships and other educational opportunities as well as legislative representation and support for producer-owned co-ops. 

 

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