I AM AN AMERICORPS MEMBER AND I WILL GET THINGS DONE

By Annie Carlson, AmeriCorps VISTA

Annie in North Hills

Annie Carlson is an AmeriCorps VISTA serving as a full-time volunteer for one year in her home state of Montana.

During the second week of March, I traveled from Missoula to Helena to attend the ServeMontana symposium. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but hey, it was going to be an opportunity to get out of the office and switch up my routine for a couple of days.

I was more than surprised when I was told there were nearly 300 AmeriCorps State and AmeriCorps VISTA service members that would be attending the event. As the room filled up and welcoming statements were made, we were asked where we traveled from to get to our service positions in Montana. When asked who was from Montana, my hand went up with another 30 or so hands. When asked who was from out of the state, most of the hands in the room flung into the air.

At that point a flood of emotions came over me; a mix of gratitude for all of those who chose to serve in Montana and extreme pride for this place that I have been lucky enough to call home.

Gov Bullock at Serve Montana Symposium

Governor Bullock speaks to AmeriCorps volunteers at the Serve Montana Symposium.

About a year ago now, when I was searching for an opportunity to serve with AmeriCorps, the one thing I was sure of was that I was going to stay in Montana. For many AmeriCorps members, a service term is an opportunity to pack up and move across the country to discover a new place. For me, it was a chance to give back to the people, the communities, and the state that has raised me.

Montana landscape in snow

Annie grew up in Montana. She knew she wanted to serve her volunteer term with a Montana nonprofit in order to give back to the state that raised her.

As I dug deeper into the opportunities within AmeriCorps, I landed on becoming an AmeriCorps VISTA. Volunteers in Service to America (VISTAs) are passionate service members from all over the United States that make a commitment to a full-time, full-year, service term with a nonprofit or public agency to work to bring people out of poverty in their community. While the programs and the work that individual VISTAs do during their service year varies, the common goal is to help people out of poverty in their community through capacity-building work.

My search led me to the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC). To say the least, I was nervous for my first day, but now that I look back on it, it was in true CFAC fashion that I started my year as a VISTA: I traveled to a place I had never been in Eastern Montana to attend a meeting of local ranchers where I knew no one. Like, way out there, the part of Montana where there are triple the number of cows than people.

From that point, I have not stopped experiencing and learning new things through the work that I have been able to do with CFAC.  I have learned how to be flexible when curve balls are thrown my way, how to work as a team, and to celebrate the little things. I am so thankful for this opportunity to serve through AmeriCorps with CFAC, and I know I have become a better person for it.

AmeriCorps logo

AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers (Volunteers in Service to America) are passionate service members from all over the United States that make a commitment to a full-time, full-year, service term with a nonprofit or public agency to work to bring people out of poverty in their community.

No matter where you call home, if your tools of service are a chainsaw and a hard hat or a computer and an excel sheet, AmeriCorps service members are united by a passion for service and excitement to learn that is represented by the “big A” we all wear.  As an AmeriCorps member and a Montanan, I am thankful for all the things that get done in my home state because of national service.

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Intangible Benefits of Double SNAP Dollars are Most Profound

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Shopping at the Clark Fork Market. Photo Credit: Franco Salazar

Nearly 2,500 Montanans have used Double SNAP Dollars – a program that matches the amount of SNAP benefits customers spend at local food outlets such as farmers markets (SNAP is a federal food assistance program that was formerly known as Food Stamps). The purchases made by these customers totaled $274,000 – these dollars were spent and recirculated locally and helped boost farmers’ income at the market.

A new report finds that the impacts of this program far exceed its participation numbers or dollar sales. Catie DeMets, a graduate student of the Environmental Studies program at the University of Montana, completed an independent evaluation of the grant program that helped launch Double SNAP Dollars earlier this year.

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Read the full report here

The report tells the story of an increased community connection for farmers and Double SNAP Dollars customers alike.

A Double SNAP Dollars customer described their experience for the report:

When I first went to farmers market, I felt very on the outside of it. I just wanted to zip in and zip out, and I felt embarrassed that I didn’t have much to spend. But with Double SNAP Dollars, I gradually felt much more part of the community, because I was accepted without being questioned, I was welcomed in every way, and I was greeted with cheer and kindness every week by the market managers and the vendors…Double SNAP Dollars contributes to a higher feeling of wellbeing and energy in the community.

Many farmers indicated the program helped them to more fully realize their missions to feed their communities, as demonstrated by this farmers market vendor:

Access to fresh food is a right! We love serving people who otherwise could not afford local produce.

CFAC is humbled by the stories included in this report and excited to continue the Double SNAP Dollars program into the 2018 season and beyond.

For more information about Double SNAP Dollars visit DoubleDollarsMT.com.

To learn more about how CFAC is working toward a sustainable local food system, including our work with Double SNAP Dollars, visit www.missoulacfac.org or contact us at cfacinfo@missoulacfac.org

Action Alert: Call your U.S. House Representative and Urge a NO Vote on the Proposed Farm Bill

Very soon, the U.S. House will vote on a proposed Farm Bill that will dictate the next five years of agricultural and nutrition priorities. It includes harmful cuts to conservation and nutrition programs and puts local food economies at risk.

CFAC has administered $1.3M of federal dollars from Farm Bill programs and invested those dollars into our local food and farming system. As a result: nearly 1,000 beginning farmers received farm business training, 52 new farms were started, 28 farmers received $146,000 to purchase infrastructure improvements to enhance their operations, 2,500 SNAP customers received matching funds at local food retailers to buy more fruits and veggies, and more than $274,000 was spent on local foods.

The Farm Bill in Montana

$1.3M of federal dollars from Farm Bill programs have been invested in our local food and farming system since 2014. These programs have real impacts on communities across Montana.

Call Rep. Gianforte at (202) 225-3211 and ask him to reject the proposed Farm Bill, and instead support Farm Bill programs that provide resources to niche beginning farmers, help farmers steward the land that sustains us, and make local food accessible to all.

CSA Season Brings These Bounties to Your Table

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What’s a CSA you might be wondering? The acronym stands for Community Supported Agriculture. It’s a program that gets community members involved with farms.

[If you’re already familiar with CSAs, scroll down to read about our highlighted CSA programs. If you’re not already familiar, read on!]

Traditionally, community members would sign up for a farm share at the beginning of the season. This would provide farmers with early-season cash to buy seeds and other necessities to get the growing season started.  Community members are then provided with a bounty of farm-fresh produce every week from the farm’s harvest (usually less at the beginning of the season and more later on).

This system connects farmer and community member in sharing both the risks and rewards of local food production. Risks: you never know what the weather will bring and how it will affect crop production. Rewards: fresh, local produce, the opportunity to try new foods or new varieties of produce, and a more personal connection to the farmer and local foodshed.

As the CSA marketplace has evolved, so have CSA programs. Many programs offer other experiences, such as on- or off-farm pickup, bi-weekly deliveries, pay-as-you-go, pick-your-own shares, winter season shares, or opportunities to participate in farm activities such as harvest days, outdoor meals, or even dance parties.

If you enjoy experimenting with new foods and recipes, want a healthy supply of local produce all summer long, and don’t particularly like to get up early on a Saturday morning to get to the farmers market – a CSA might be what you’re looking for!

Just as exciting, many CSA programs are starting to accept SNAP payments (SNAP was formerly known as the food stamp program). SNAP customers simply make installment payments from their Montana Access EBT cards each month during the summer.

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If you enjoy experimenting with new foods and recipes, want a healthy supply of local produce all summer long, and don’t particularly like to get up early on a Saturday morning to get to the farmers market – a CSA might be what you’re looking for!

DSD-Box-Logo-LargeHere, we highlight three CSA programs that not only accept SNAP but are a part of the Double SNAP Dollars program – which means SNAP customers receive half-off a CSA share price, up to a $200 maximum. Just contact one of the friendly CSA coordinators/farmers to find out more information and see if their CSA is right for you!


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Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC) : WMGC headquarters is based in Missoula but is a collective of over 30 farmers, ranchers, and local food producers in Western Montana. Their CSA shares include vegetables and fruits from a number of their members’ farms, all who are either certified Organic or Homegrown (a local peer-certified alternative to organic certification).

Offerings: 26 weeks of fruits and vegetables in Full and Regular summer shares; Fall shares; Add-on shares including meat, cheese, milk, bread, coffee, eggs. Plus, they offer an opportunity to buy additional locally-grown products at discounted prices, including fruits, vegetables, herbs, cheese, milk, eggs, beef, pork, chickens, lentils, barley, honey, soap and more.
Price Points: $390 – $570, plus early bird discounts and payment plans; ($195 – $370 for produce shares for Double SNAP Customers!)
Pick-ups: Starting end of May; Thursday evenings in Missoula, Victor, Stevensville, Lolo, St. Ignatius, Polson, Ronan, Charlo, Dixon, and Arlee; Fridays in Butte and Helena
Contact: Amy: 406.544.6135 |csa@wmgcoop.com

MGVC

Missoula Grain and Vegetable Company: Is a diversified vegetable farm located in Stevensville operated by Max, Kenny, and Katelyn. They’ve been farming for years, but have been settled on their land in Stevi since 2016 and became Organic-certified in 2017.

Offerings: 21 weeks of Vegetables in Quarter, Full, Large and Free Choice summer shares; Winter Shares
Price Points: $147 – $735, plus early bird discounts and payment plans; ($73.50 – $325 for produce shares for Double SNAP Customers!)
Pick-ups: Starting End of May; Saturday mornings at the Clark Fork Market in Missoula Stevensville Farmers Market, or Hamilton Farmers Market; Tuesday evenings at the Missoula Farmers Market
Contact: Max: 406.214.6664 (text or call)

glacier-tilth

Glacier Tilth Farm : Is a certified organic vegetable farm located in the small town of Dixon in the Jocko Valley of Northwest Montana. The farm is operated by Anna and Matthew, who have been farming for years and are in their second season of production on their leased land in Dixon.

Offerings: 20 weeks of Vegetables in Small or Full summer shares; Egg Shares
Price Points: $300 – $500, plus early bird discounts and payment plans; ($150 – $300 produce shares for Double SNAP Customers!)
Pick-ups: Starting mid-June; Friday evenings at the Mission Falls Market in St. Ignatius; Saturday mornings on the farm in Dixon; Tuesday evenings at Missoula Friends Meeting
Contact: Anna: 615.806.0714 | glaciertilthfarm@gmail.com

Introducing Tori Managan, CFAC’s Farm Business Finance and Grants Management Specialist!

Tori Managan - PictureWe’re excited to introduce CFAC’s newest staff member, Tori Managan! Tori hails from Vermont, and she’s thrilled to be in “the wild west,” meeting Montana farmers and helping them succeed. We interviewed Tori to share more about her with all of you. Enjoy!

Q: What does it mean to you to be proud of a place?

A: I’m very, very proud to be a Vermonter. In Vermont, you’re not allowed to call yourself a Vermonter unless you have 3 generations back; I’m a 9th generation Vermonter, and I still have family that are farming there. I’m here to see where life takes me, but I know where my roots are, and I’m very proud to be from Vermont and I’m very proud of my family, and I don’t want to lose that.

Q: Tell us about your family’s farming business.

A: My cousin has a dairy farm and he has beef cows. They do logging, maple syrup, and hay. He’s going through succession planning. He has 2 farms right now. After he graduated from college, he had different views of ag than his father; he wanted to do more grass-raised beef. So he ended up buying a farm down the road from his father so he could farm the way he wanted to. I’m not even sure where he learned about sustainable farming practices, but he just did it and went for it.

Q: Do you think your cousin influenced your perspectives on agriculture?

A: Definitely. When I was a little girl I grew up going to his parent’s farm. I don’t know if I would pick up on that when I was a girl. It wasn’t until later when I was learning about soil and water quality, drawn to the details of ag, and he definitely shaped my perspectives. I just have a lot of respect for farmers and ranchers; it’s really hard work and very labor intensive and you don’t make a lot of money from it. It’s just a way of life.

Q: Are your siblings also involved?

A: My brother is marketing Cabot cheese, and my cousin sold milk to the Cabot cooperative. That’s the other thing; we were often able to collaborate and work together. I’m very proud of him. My sister lives in Houston, TX. She works for a wholesale grocer.

Q: What is your Myers-Briggs Personality Type?

A: I’ve never done the Myers-Briggs, but I have done others; I absolutely love that sort of thing. I can tell you that I’m an implementer, empathetic, and a learner.

Q: What is important to you about team-building?

A: It goes back to Myers-Briggs model; knowing that everyone has different strengths, and being mindful that we all bring something different to the table. I also really like the model of teamwork and going through different phases, and trying to facilitate a team to be high-performing.

Q: What is your best team-building memory?

A: I remember in grad school, we were doing an activity around diversity. We were a small cohort so we got to know each other really well. During the activity, one girl in our cohort was really attached to details; everyone was getting super frustrated and upset because we couldn’t move past the beginning of the activity. We were not a high-performing team.  The second semester we were in a class and I was in a group with the same girl. We had to build a tower made of notecards. We were competing against the other team, who was also building a tower. The winner’s tower had to be the tallest but it also had to be able to stand for a long period of time. I remember stopping her at one point and I said “DO YOU TRUST ME?” and we got past the details, and we built the tower, and it still stands today. After that exercise, we became a high-functioning team.

Q: How did you get interested in sustainability?

A: I spent 3 months WWOOFing in New Zealand. It was a cheap way to travel the country while gaining hands-on experience with farming. Prior to that, I didn’t even know the word sustainability. I spent 3 months going to homesteads and farms, and I learned so much about how to have a small impact on the Earth. It seems crazy because Vermont is such a progressive state, but I wasn’t really tapped into that network when I was there. After I got back to the States, I wanted to make an impact here.

Q: What is it about farming that you believe makes an impact on sustainability?

A: I believe ag is the backbone of our society. I also believe ag gives a location a sense of community; people surround themselves with agriculture. By supporting local farms, you’re also supporting your local community in terms of economy. It’s all just so interesting to me: how do we improve the soil? How do we get good food to people who need it? To me, sustainability revolves around agriculture; everything revolves around agriculture.

I believe ag is the backbone of our society. I also believe ag gives a location a sense of community; people surround themselves with agriculture.

Q: What is it that you’re most excited to learn?

A: Vermont has beef cows, but we don’t have it on the same scale; beef producer probably has 20 cows. I’m most excited to learn, not necessarily about cattle ranches, but the scale of farming and the different ag practices you need to use in this environment. I want to learn why it is people are doing things the way they’re doing, and how we can make it a more sustainable model.

Q: What is it that you’re most excited to share?

A: My knowledge. I think the exciting thing about coming to Missoula and coming to this organization is learning from each other. Western Montana and Vermont are really similar in a lot of ways but there are also a lot of things we can share with one another.

Q: What has been your most exciting discovery about Missoula so far?

A: Goodwill! Thrift store shopping. I’m so excited to learn that there are good thrift stores here. Since I have visited before, I got hiking in already. I love hiking…but I LOVE thrift stores.

Q: What would you do with one million dollars?

A: I would pay off my immediate family’s and friends’ debt…and probably buy a ranch.

Q: What would you do with your ranch?

A: I’d want a diversified farm and ranch. I’d love to keep honeybees, sheep, chickens, veggies. I’m very interested in vermiculture.

Q: Favorite way to spend a Saturday?

A: How about a Sunday? I’ve historically always worked Saturdays. Favorite way to start a Sunday is slow, with coffee in bed. Getting some outdoor activity in. I’m always trying to plan and prepare for the following Monday for an easy transition to the work week. It’s like a mental health day.

Q: If Vermont were a song, which one would it be?

A: Country Road, Take Me Home

Q: If Montana were a song, which one would it be?

A: Ooooooo! Someone was telling me about this song called Montana by Frank Zappa.

Q: have you met any Montana farmers yet?

A: Yes! I met a girl who does vermiculture at her ranch near Billings, so I’m really excited to go see her.

Q: What is one thing you want people to know about you?

A: I’m really passionate about helping to promote local agricultural products, and helping people succeed.

 

You can contact Tori at tori@missoulacfac.org