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By: Shay Farmer, Mission Valley Food Access Program Coordinator

CFAC’s work focuses on cultivating an interconnected local food system. Sometimes this path can wind between program areas of food access, beginning farmer and rancher training, and agricultural land preservation ever so subtly, reinforcing our overall programmatic impact as an organization, and offering immeasurable social impacts to boot.

In early October, CFAC’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher program leaders partnered with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) organize a week-long Armed to Farm conference, a Sustainable Agriculture training for military veterans.

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Twenty-five military veterans joined CFAC and NCAT for Armed to Farm, a week-long sustainable agriculture workshop specifically geared toward veterans in the Mission Valley.

Cora Coleman and Jeff Newton, a military family who attended the week-long conference, have also helped extensively with CFAC’s Food Access Program in the Mission Valley. And, they happen to live on seven acres of prime, unused farming land outside of Polson.

Dave Renn, Beginning Farmer Program Manager, said “the goal of the project training was in recognition of the fact that our veterans possess a lot of the skills and traits that make a successful farmer.”

“We learned so much,” Newton said about the conference. He hopes to develop a business opportunity from the knowledge he took away from the conference.

Coleman was introduced to CFAC two years ago from attending Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) incentivized self-sufficiency classes in Polson. She brought her family to learn to garden, preserve, and cook local food and to earn DSD incentives to spend on fresh and local food at the Polson Farmers Market.

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Double SNAP Dollars participants learn the basics of dehydrating and freezing in a Polson Farmers’ Market Double SNAP Dollars class this summer. Participants receive monetary incentives for attendance, which they can then spend at the farmers’ markets.

This year, our Food Access team recruited Coleman to be a part of the Double SNAP Dollar Street Team. As a DSD program customer, Coleman and other Street Team members provide valuable insight into DSD’s customer base and help promote the program within their personal networks during the summer.

As the summer winds down, Coleman has asked my family to help her family prune the many fruit trees that haven’t been tamed since the passing of her father years ago. In exchange for my husband’s help with pruning, they have offered us a goose from their flock.

The reciprocity of it all has really struck me; between professional and personal and the small part we all must play in our community, we are all re-learning skills and necessities that have sustained us for generations and prevented hunger in the past. And we’re doing it together.

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