Two-Year Study on Food Insecurity in Missoula County Released (PDF)

People who provide services and people who use them have much more in common than anyone might think, according to a report released this week by a university-community collaboration, which has been studying food insecurity in Missoula County for the past two years. The solutions recommended by service providers and service users are strikingly similar.

Food Insecurity in Missoula County: Barriers, Opportunities, and Solutions is a report based on the work of the Finding Solutions to Food Insecurity Project. One of the project’s primary objectives was to ensure the participation of people who had firsthand experience of food insecurity in the fact finding and solution building processes. The project was a collaborative effort that brought together researchers from The University of Montana, people who struggle to put food on their tables, and representatives from a number of community service organizations.

“We really wanted to learn about the experiences of service users and service providers, and what they thought were barriers to and opportunities for food security locally,” explained Maxine Jacobson, a local researcher who helped facilitate the project. “I think opportunities are those points of agreement where two or more groups are completely together on their thinking. Change has a much better chance of happening when people bring different perspectives and find common ground.”

Chris Rugeley, a UM research assistant added, “Over 600 community residents participated in interviews, town hall meetings, focus groups, and surveys. Twenty-nine steering committee members were involved in the project, many of whom have direct experience of food insecurity. They helped design the research and helped collect data. Some questions we never would have asked without their input. We like to think we’ve come up with a more comprehensive picture of food insecurity, one that includes the voices of service users and service providers.”

“There are no quick and easy solutions to food insecurity,” said Jacobson. “What we’re learning is the importance of creating a forum for ongoing communication between service providers and service users. To make Missoula County a place where everyone has access to healthy, nutritious food, we need to make sure everyone has a place at the table.”

The objectives of the FSFI project are:
  • To conduct research on food and nutrition policies focused on meeting the needs of community residents experiencing food insecurity
  • To ensure that people experiencing food insecurity have a strong voice in the policymaking process regarding food access and nutrition

What is food insecurity?
  • Not knowing where your next meal will come from
  • Having to choose between food and other daily needs (shelter, utilities, medicine, etc.)
  • Increasing cost of living vs. stagnant income
Hamm and Bellows define community food security as "a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self-reliance and social justice."


The FSFI project began in September 2005 with a coordinating committee of six people representating the Missoula Food Bank, the Poverello Center, the North Missoula Community Development Corporation and the University of Montana's School of Social Work. The first four months of the project were dedicated to recruiting a steering committee of 8-12 people experiencing food insecurity to inform and guide the research process. With the help of local advocacy and service organizations, we recruited a steering committee of 12 people experiencing food insecurity and held our first meeting on January 19, 2006.

We've come a long way from that first meeting, but we're still going. Accomplishments to-date include the the following:
  • Working with the Office of Public Assistance (OPA) to count time and effort of steering committee members who receive TANF assistnace as a contribution to their work hour requirement
  • Developing a reimbursement system through the developing Missoula Food Co-op so steering committee members can receive food vouchers for their work on the project
  • Gathering secondary data on usage of public and private food assistance programs in Missoula County
  • Researching the work of others in the community, state and nation (homeWORD, living wage campaigns, Montana Women Vote, FRAC, Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, and Northwest Area Foudnation, to name a few)
  • Ongoing literature review
  • Learning about and struggling with how to support the ongoing participation of the steering committee
  • Addressing issues concerning power and privilege
  • Created a safe environment for people to participate, an environment free of social stigma where individuals are valued as human beings
  • Combined the efforts of the steering committee and the coordinating committee to share power and create a shared agenda
  • Narrowed down our research question through participatory decision-making process
  • Educating group on what research tools are available, deciding what tools to use to answer the research questions, and finalizing research design
  • Mapping out a timeline and method for conducting the research
  • Created an evaluation procedure
  • Breaking into two-subcommittees:
          Food Assistance Working Group (FAWG) investigated the barriers and assets of emergency food programs (like the Missoula Food Bank and the Poverello Center, a local homeless shelter) and federal nutrition programs (like the Missoula County Office of Public Assistance, which administers the Food Stamp program, and the Missoula County Health Department, which administers the WIC program).

          Cost of Living Sub-committee planned two town hall meetings to find out more about how various cost of living issues (like high rent, high healthcare costs, low wages, etc.) affect people's ability to eat well. One meeting involved community members who are using services to help address these issues. A second meeting involved local policymakers, program administrators/staff, and local government officials.

Still to Come:

To address the barriers to food security on organizational, community, and structural levels identified in the study and to take advantage of the opportunities available for change, the following initial steps are recommended:

    1. Initiate a forum for ongoing dialogue between service users and service providers to inform program policies and procedures. The primary objective of the forum would be to increase access to healthy, nutritious food for Missoula County residents with limited income. This forum would be the conduit for discussions and decision making about how to dismantle the barriers identified in this study to increase participation rates in federally funded food assistance programs.

    2. Develop a food policy for Missoula County that addresses food access and is informed by people with limited income.

Download Food Insecurity in Missoula County: Barriers, Opportunities & Solutions 2007 final report

 (Last updated: 9/26/07)

For more information on the FSFI project, contact Maxine Jacobson (406) 396-0183 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.