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Sidney Herald
Sidney , Montana
September 4, 2019     Sidney Herald
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September 4, 2019

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A8 SIDNEY HERALD, WEDNESDAY, SEPTEMBER 4, 2019 BY ERIC DIETRICH, MONTANA FREE PRESS EKALAKA -- Get- ting fresh fruits and vegetables here in one of Montana's most isolated small towns, hours from the near- est shopping center, can be an ordeal. It got more difficult last winter .when the only grocery store in the county, the Main Street Market, was gutted by fire a week before Christmas. (The cause, the Eka- laka Eagle reported at the time, was under investigation). "There was a panic," Said Eva Grimes, who runs the local cof- fee shop, Stompin' Grounds, with her mother. Main Street Mar- ket had been the only grocer in Carter County, a sparsely populated region in ~ ~.:: Branson Grocery opened in an old church building on the edge of Ekalaka in February. Montana's southeast corner that's nearly t ~::~.~:~L~ '~: ~ :~ three times the size ::: of Rhode Island, but : home to just 1,200 peo- ple. The next-closest option for residents doing last-minute hol- iday food shopping was Reynolds Market in Baker, a half-hour drive north, or longer in bad weather. In Ekalaka, where roughly 360 people live inside town lim- its, food options are limited in the best of times. Aside from the grocer and a part- time food bank, resi- dents have their pick between Stompin' Grounds, one bar with limited food service, and a single diner. The community is too small to have fran- chise restaurants or a ,chain gas station con- venience store, and the closest big-box stores like Walmart are in Miles City, 115 miles away, or Spear- fish, South Dakota, a 120-mile drive. Those distances make food logistics in this ranching town a challenge, particu- larly when it comes to fresh fruits and vege- tables. As is the case in rural communities nationwide, the cost of shipping forces local stores to post relative- ly high prices. Given the limited local cus- tomer base, it's also ~ ~:~ y i! trick,for owners to dec ff to- matoes or packaged greens to order from suppliers to keep their shelves Stocked with- out losing too much produce to spoilage. "It's hard to get food here that isn't deep- fried," Grimes said. "Everything falls off a truck frozen food is something:that lasts." Ekalaka, after Main Street Market's clo- sure, is an extreme ERIC DIETRICH, MFP milk and eggs to sell to customers, and res- identg leaving for out- of-town shopping trips posted to Facebook, offering to pick up supplies for friends. A county charter bus, usually used to trans- port non-driving se- nior citizens to med- ical appointments in Billings or Spearfish, was pressed into ser- vice for grocery runs to Baker. "We were worried about our shut-ins," said Tricia Lovec, who manages the county food bank and charter bus service. "Believe ERIC DIETRICH, MFP me, not having a store was bad." "We all just chipped in and did what we could," Grimes said. said they relied on Along with a hand- Eva Grimes, who helps run the Ekalaka coffee shop Stompin" Grounds, said"There was a panic" when the county's only grocery store, Main Street Market, was gutted by fire a week before Christmas 2018. example, but "food deserts," where it's difficult to find afford- able, nutritious food, represent a major con- cern for researchers and others who worry about food security. Lower-income people in rural areas -- who may not have a re- liable vehicle or the gas money to regular- ly shop at a Walmart tens or hundreds of miles from home -- are particularly vul- nerable to obesity and diabetes caused by poor diets. Data from the United States Department of Agriculture, derived from the 2010 Census, indicate that more than 20,800 low-in- come Montanans live at least 20 miles from a supermarket. An es- timated 440 of those Montanans live in Carter County. Ekalaka residents small-town neighbor- liness last winter to cope with the sudden void that the market fire left in local food resources. Several local busi- nesses ordered extra WEEKDAYS SATURDAY 7:00AM - 5:30PM 9AM - ] 2PM ful of other residents, Grimes also turned to a meal delivery service, Hello Fresh, which shipped her weekly boxes contain- ing ingredients for a few meals at a time, including better-qual- ity produce than she could find locally. "It's really nice to have these beautiful vegetables in the mid- dle of winter out in boondocks Montana," she said. "It's just so much easier to have it show up at your door." (As of August, Hello Fresh's website in- dicated a new cus- tomer could order a six-serving delivery to an Ekalaka address for $53.94 plus $6.99 shipping, or $10.15 per serving.) In February, a new store, Branson Gro- cery, opened in an old church building on the edge of town, bringing Ekalaka res- idents a new shopping option. "The community needs it," said owner Mark Branson. "It's definitely a logistics problem being way out here, so far off the beaten path." Grimes said she's also trying to offer more prepared food with fresh ingredients -- things like veggie piz- zas -- at the coffee shop. But even that can be an uphill fight. Not long after her inter- view with a report- er wrapped up, she sent a message with a picture of a freshly cut red pepper with a moldy interior. "Small town pro- duce " she wrote. "Just bought 2 days ago." This story is pub- lished by Montana Free Press as part o] the Long Streets Proj- ect. This work is sup- ported in part by a grant from the Greater Montana Foundation, which encourages com- munication on issues, trends, and values o] importance to Montan- ans. Reach Lead Re- porter Eric Dietrich at edietrich GET THE BIG BUCK ON THE HIGHWAY INSTEAD OF IN THE FIELD? 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