Written by Anne Harney, AmeriCorps Summer VISTA Outreach Coordinator
Kati Burton, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) in Missoula, is passionate about good food. This passion began as an undergraduate student athlete at Virginia Tech. “As a student athlete, you constantly have to eat to fuel your body, and my understanding of nutrition was basically that you can eat whatever you want and as much as you want as long as you work out. But I realized that if you don’t fuel your body well, even if you are exercising, you don’t feel well.” Out of curiosity, she took a dietetics class and ended up switching her major from English to dietetics. Kati went on to get her master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition from Virginia Tech and found her way to Montana through an internship program at Montana State University. MSU has one of the few dietetics internship programs that emphasizes sustainability as a component of health and nutrition, a particular interest of hers after working on a farm and managing a farmers market for several years.
As an RDN, Kati has a private practice in Missoula where she receives doctor referrals for patients with Type 2 diabetes, various gastrointestinal disorders, and eating disorders. She also works for the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. In her work, she sees the major barriers that many Montanans face when accessing fresh, healthy food. The geography of Montana is a major challenge for food access in rural communities, as many people have to drive an hour or more to get to a grocery store. The loss of cooking skills is another barrier to fresh food. It is much more challenging to purchase fresh food when families are unsure of how to prepare it. Finally, social barriers, particularly finances, create additional hurdles to food access. Because Montana has a limited growing season, fresh fruits and vegetables are often transported here from miles away, which raises the cost of produce.
Kati loves that a program like Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) can help break down some of these barriers to food access. Double SNAP Dollars helps food-insecure Montanans afford more fresh, local produce by doubling the purchasing power of their SNAP benefits. For every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods at participating farmers markets or farm shares, SNAP recipients receive an extra dollar to spend on fresh, local produce.
Kati believes that Double SNAP Dollars is truly a community vitality program. Farmers markets that offer DSD help provide fresh produce to low-income individuals and families, and the dollars from DSD go right back to the farmer. DSD also works to expand the variety of produce that SNAP customers buy. Kati says when people go to the grocery store, they are often only buying the produce they are familiar with, such as apples, bananas, and oranges. But at the farmers market, they see a welcoming display of locally available produce like turnips, leafy greens, and beets. These foods can feel more exciting and accessible at the farmers market rather than at the grocery store.
DSD also helps farmers markets become a more equitable gathering place for the entire community. Kati says, “Farmers markets can be seen as an elitist, wealthy space that only caters to certain social-economic classes. Having Double SNAP at the markets, however, creates a community gathering space where everyone in the community can feel welcome and participate in purchasing fresh, local food.”
Kati sees preventative health as a major value of DSD, particularly for children. During her stint at the WIC office in Missoula, Kati heard from several moms about how their kids were more open to trying vegetables after visiting the farmers market and helping shop for the family’s meals. By making fresh produce more affordable, families can afford to experiment with new items, which creates interest and curiosity around food for the kids. And they discover that veggies are delicious! Kati says that kids voluntarily trying and eating produce is a great preventative health measure and helps create healthy eating habits that last a lifetime.
Kati also finds that Double SNAP can give hope and a sense of self-worth for participants. She has seen tears well up in her clients’ eyes when they learn about the program, and they realize that they, too, are worthy of eating fresh, healthy food.
Kati notes that Double SNAP Dollars holds enormous value for Montanans. In addition to increased access to good nutrition which leads to improved health, Kati says that DSD helps the individual have confidence that they are a part of the community and deserve healthy food. “This confidence is a multi-generational benefit – it trickles down to the kids and helps them recognize their own self-worth.” She also points out that the money from Double SNAP purchases goes back into the community into the hands of the farmers, leading to improved community wealth and vitality. “Double SNAP emphasizes the triple bottom line approach to sustainability and should lead to improved overall community health.”
Thank you, Kati, for sharing your perspective of the DSD program!
To learn more about Double SNAP Dollars, visit CFAC’s Double SNAP Dollar website, DoubleDollarsMT.com, or email Kim Gilchrist, Food Access Program Manager, at email@example.com.