Hunger in Montana
Hunger in Montana? It almost seems like a contradiction in terms. How can there be hunger in a state whose financial foundation is based on the growing and distribution of food? Perhaps this is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left hand is doing.
My family and I moved from inner city Buffalo, New York where we were surrounded with everything that we needed in the areas of work, food, and friends to laugh and celebrate life with. There were important reasons to leave that climate, particularly for the sake of our children and their safety in schools where people of different ethnic backgrounds were sending their children after teaching them to hate. When I found myself in Ashland, Montana on the beautiful Tongue River, I never felt as close to God as I did then. We lived on a ranch that was fully self-sufficient. Cattle were raised there, supporting a slaughterhouse with the help of ranch hands that came to brand and castrate every year. Chickens ran free, the eggs collected periodically, and a full acre garden supporting every vegetable that can be raised in Montana grew there. All of the food that was canned was stored in a root cellar, with so much left over that some had to be thrown away every couple of years, in order to make room for more. A large portion of life on this ranch during the spring, summer, and autumn was spent in preparation for the long winter ahead. This lifestyle change was a wonderful revelation to me, knowing that the work of my hands could actually support and nourish my family. I learned how to milk a cow, make my own butter, and irrigate a dry land garden. The key to survival lay in the organizational skills required to grow and harvest the food resources available in order to take care of each member of the ranch and to have as an emergency backup for those in need.
The same principle applies to this culture here in Bozeman. We need to get back to the basic economic foundation of shopping every time we get paid for a period of time in order to have enough food in the house to feed our families until the next payday. The European lifestyle of going to market everyday only prevents us from planning meals ahead of time, and helps us to spend money spontaneously as we shop on an empty stomach. The discipline of shopping as we get paid not only helps financially but in many ways to do with our physical health. Planning meals logically centered around proteins, fruits and vegetables, and grains purchased in advance is healing and restful since the food is already in the cupboard and the idea for dinner is all that is required to have a peaceful evening.
Montana seems to be the land of dreams with our beautiful mountains and lakes, and wilderness area as far as the eye can see. Cities like Buffalo have become a thing of the past for many who have left to begin a new life in a place that seems to be so full of peace and prosperity. Montana is indeed all of those things, but that prosperity is found only when we are able to leave what we learned in our previous environment in the past and truly embrace this new world and its value system that has maintained so many people for all this time. Montana is agricultural, it is wilderness, and it does support the idea that God helps those who help themselves. We have brought in very important improvements such as fair wages and technology that supports communication to the outside world, but no matter how much these improvements grow and improve aspects of our lives, that will never change the spirit of Montana whose value system is based on working with one’s hands and living off the land. Knowing that the work of one’s hands does feed the family instills confidence that comes from that foundational knowledge. When many people support these new ideas that are really not so new, new communities will form as a result of this consciousness.
A new community has already begun to take shape whose collective goal is to bridge the gap between the people struggling to feed their families and the organizations attempting to develop grass-root programs that link Montana to the rest of the world. 1000 New Gardens is a new program in Bozeman operated by a Montana State University student named Max Smith. Max and his team are building community gardens within the Bozeman city limits for those who want to grow and harvest their own organic produce. Enrollment is building rapidly and meetings are currently being held to organize spring activities. Visit 1000newgardens.ning.com to become an active participant. Grow Montana is a coalition whose purpose is to promote community economic policies that support sustainable Montana-owned food production, processing, and distribution, and to improve our own access to Montana foods. Check out their website (www.growmontana.ncat.org) for a very interesting, informative video about the history of food production in the state, and learn all that they are accomplishing for state run organizations. This coalition is conducting research in order to redevelop a Montana food processing industry, such as one here in Bozeman that grew and canned peas for nationwide distribution. The opportunity to live off the land is one of the gifts God has given us in the state of Montana, and taking full advantage of those gifts can also include harvesting the wild game He has provided. All the information you will need to learn about hunting and fishing in the state can be found at Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. FWP can be reached at 994-4042.
Allowing ourselves to change and grow to adapt to this new set of values helps us to find balance between the “secure” job and our own ability to support ourselves in the Montana fashion.
Janice Aldrow is a single parent who has lived in Bozeman since 1985. She earned her degree in Family and Consumer Science Education and has written a book The Art of Money Management that was published in 2005. Some of her other writing can be viewed at http://bigfskyhome.blogspot.com/