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Fresh SNAP provides fresh food, preserving classes

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Homegrown tomatoes are ripening, corn is at its peak and Flathead peaches, pears, plums and grapes are bursting their skins, loading the Polson Farmers Market with fresh produce and fruit. 

To help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients buy more fresh food, Lou Anne Hoskinson and Melissa Michel from Polson Farmers Market began a pilot program called Fresh SNAP in 2014. It served two purposes — SNAP recipients could increase their consumption of locally grown fruits and vegetables, and support the farmers growing the food. 

The deal was if SNAP qualifiers spent $5 at the farmers market then they received an additional $5 so they could purchase more fresh produce. A donation from the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribal Department of Resource Development ensured 200 recipients could take advantage of Fresh SNAP.   

In 2015, Shay Farmer, Montana Campus Compact AmeriCorps Farm-to-Institution VISTA with Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, a program of Lake County Community Development, looked further afield and got an additional $1,000 from Town Pump to supplement the Tribes DRD monies. Lake County Public Services and Total Screen Design also supported the program.

“In Lake County alone, 21 percent of residents are obese, 24 percent have high blood pressure, 6 percent have diabetes, and 76 percent of residents eat less than the recommended servings of fruits and vegetables,” Farmer said in a letter seeking funding.  

That infusion of cash allowed the Farmers Market to boost the Fresh SNAP allotment to $20 per person to spend at the market, and then receive another $20.

Sometimes all the fresh vegetables and juicy fruit abundance has to be preserved or canned or it will go to waste.  

So Fresh SNAP joined forces with Rene Kittle, Montana State University Flathead Reservation Extension Agent, to invite qualified SNAP recipients to free food handling and storage classes. After a person completed the class, he or she would receive a $20 Fresh SNAP certificate for food at the Polson Farmers Market. 

They scheduled three classes at the Flathead Extension Office in Polson: jam making,  canning and dehydrating/drying. 

“We’re happy with how it’s been received,” Michel said. 

Four jam makers showed up; nine women came to the canning class; and eight learned to dehydrate and dry foods. 

“All the classes were hands-on,” Michel said. “They had to cook stuff and sterilize the jars.” 

The ladies made apricot jam and corn relish. It takes so much time to dry fruit and vegetables that Farmer dried tomatoes before the class to demonstrate what they looked like. Each attendee received “How to Eat Good and Cheap on $4 a Day,” by Leanne Brown from the Fresh SNAP program, and the “Ball Blue Book” from Farmer’s program.

Kittle is a well-informed resource for the women. She reminded everyone that times have changed and been updated, encouraging them to check their Ball book when canning and to follow guidelines for higher attitudes.

One participant said she learned things in each of the classes. 

Another said the canning class was great for her, and she learned many tips for making jerky, which her family loves. 

In addition to women learning to preserve foods, Brenda Richey, Flathead Reservation Extension Office program assistant and youth education director, provided food activities for kids so they could come to the classes with mom or grandma. 

During the dehydration/drying class, the children were making Play-Doh food, listening to stories and having healthy snacks. The kids made freezer jam and smoothies while their moms were preparing apricot jam. Children learned about hand washing and keeping food clean. 

It’s all about getting more fresh, local food into the hands and mouths of locals. 

“We’re a land of bounty; let’s just feed the people,” Michel said.

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