Guest Column

Protect and Strengthen SNAP Program

The program helps people living on a limited income buy healthy food at grocery stores and farmers markets

It was an interesting growing season this year. Spring was incredibly soggy but the weather changed and soon we were praying for rain. That hot, dry stretch ushered in an epic wildfire season and we all choked on smoke for a while. The fall rains (and snow) have put those worries behind us and the frost and shorter days have put everything but the hardiest of vegetables to bed for the season. Like most of my fellow farmers, I’ve taken a few slower days to reflect on the season and have already started to turn my mind towards next year and preparing for all the uncertainty that goes into farming.

Farming can be a fickle business as it gets pushed around by the vagaries of the weather, economic forces, customer tastes, and politics. Farmers are not typically known for being rich but, fortunately, one thing we don’t often worry about is food.

Many in our community are not so fortunate to have steady food access, and that is a significant part of why I’m writing this rather than working in the shop today.   

You may or may not have heard of SNAP. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, helps people living on a limited income buy healthy food at grocery stores and farmers markets in Montana and throughout the United States. Roughly one out of every nine Montanans participate in SNAP. The majority of the people in this group are families with children.     

The Whitefish farmers market started accepting SNAP payment about seven years ago and the Columbia Falls community market joined in when it opened three years ago. These markets are a couple of the farmers markets across Montana that accept SNAP dollars for produce, meat, and eggs. To further encourage SNAP participants to shop at the market, the Whitefish and Columbia Falls markets offer Double SNAP Dollars, providing a match of up to $10. Without SNAP, many in our community would be unable to afford fresh produce and the improved nutrition it offers. One of the joys of farming is being able see friends and neighbors in my community be able to feed their families fresh, quality food. SNAP helps make this possible.   

SNAP also benefits our community in a non-nutritional way. SNAP dollars are an important source of revenue to many businesses in our community. My farm, like the others in our community, is a small business contributing to the fabric of our local economy. These SNAP dollars that have such a positive effect on the health and nutrition of our customers also have a positive effect on the success of our business and others. This helps to create jobs and increased economic activity in our community. A SNAP dollar that gets spent at my farm often gets “reinvested” at another local business which then pays its employees who then reinvest their dollars locally again. SNAP is estimated to create up to $23 million in economic activity each month throughout Montana.   

Congress is in the process of reauthorizing SNAP as a part of the 2018 Farm Bill. Hopefully our Montana delegation understands that SNAP funding is not only important to disadvantaged families, but is also a significant economic benefit for a great many Montana farmers. SNAP accomplishes something seemingly rare in government policy. It helps those in need to afford their meals and it helps local businesses in our farming and ranching communities.

Please do Montana a favor and urge our Congressional delegation to protect and strengthen SNAP, for the good of our state and our local communities.

Hans Helmstetler, of Whitefish, owns Snow Country Gardens .