LINCOLN - The Missoula-based Montana Food Bank Network (MFBN) reports that 68,000 Montanans live in food deserts, places where it is hard to receive access to fresh and affordable food. Additionally, half of Montana's 56 counties are considered food deserts.
The three counties with the most challenge to get to a grocery store are Meagher County, the Western part of the Fort Belknap Reservation and the northern part of Lewis and Clark County. Lincoln — which is nearly 50 miles west of Helena and 78 miles east of Missoula — has one grocery store.
Owner Ron Arambarri says he is experiencing higher prices and low stock, "it's grocery produce, meat, frozen, it’s the entire store, beer wine soda, everything has gone up."
Arambarri has owned D&D Foodtown for 19 years, he says the current inflation and supply chain issues have created challenges.
Distributors have had to raise prices to cover the cost of $6 a gallon diesel fuel to deliver to his stores in Choteau, Fairfield, Stanford, and Lincoln. There have also been continuing supply chain issues from the pandemic that has led to out-of-stock items and bare shelves at D&D Foodtown — including what are staples for many families.
“A few of the products we are having trouble getting into the store are pasta, eggs, and dog food,” said Tiffani Olson, manager at the grocery store.
According to the Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS), the northern part of Lewis and Clark County is the third-largest area where people have limited access to grocery stores or supermarkets.
The USDA defines rural food deserts as any place people may have to travel between 10 and 20 miles to a grocery store, something that can be a significant challenge to low income families or people limited transportation, the elderly or people with disabilities.
Overall more than 6% of Montanans live in food deserts.
Arambarri is keeping his motto, "we just take it daily, hoping the product will come in because we are not notified until our truck gets here of what we get and what we don’t."