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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Farm-to-Pantry bill draws universal acclaim after first legislative hearing

Farmers Market.

A bill seeking to help food banks buy produce from local farmers and ranchers drew universal acclaim at its first hearing in the Montana Legislature Tuesday.

More than two-dozen food pantry directors, farmers, ranchers and nutritionists told lawmakers House Bill 276 is a win-win for producers and for Montanans experiencing food insecurity. It would open $1 million in grants over the next two years to help pantries buy local food at full value.

Bill sponsor Rep. Marty Malone, a Republican from Pray, said during a hearing before the House Agriculture Committee the program would open new markets for Montana producers. Malone has owned a ranch in Park County for 40 years.

“Farmers and ranchers are subject to market strains around the world, and sometimes we don’t get paid for what we do,” Malone said.

Pantries have taken a one-two punch of unprecedented demand and rising prices over the last year as inflation hurt Montanans’ pocketbooks and boosted the price of food and gas.

Many of the bill’s proponents said nutrient-dense food is often expensive for pantries to purchase, with most produce received from grocers close to expiration. Shauna Stephenson owns Good Momma Farm in Harrison.

“Good food is not and should not be reserved for those with means,” Stephenson said. “We all deserve access to high-quality nutrition.”

No one spoke in opposition of the bill.

Austin graduated from the University of Montana’s journalism program in May 2022. He came to MTPR as an evening newscast intern that summer, and jumped at the chance to join full-time as the station’s morning voice in Fall 2022.

He is best reached by emailing
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