Johny Grant started ranching in the Deer Lodge Valley in the 1850’s. Since then, ranching has come to define the social, political and economic fabric of Montana. Cattle outnumber people by three to one.
Having spent my entire life in Washington, DC, a city where people are still coming to the realization that “meat” comes from farms, it was a startling adjustment to live amidst the endless pastures of grazing cows. It was certainly the most beautiful landscape I’d ever seen. But I had a hard time reconciling this idyllic landscape with the environment most of these animals end up inhabiting.
While talking to folks in Boulder, MT, my service site last year, very few seemed to even take notice of the ranches. They just got lost in the views. Which prompted me to begin a conversation about the business of raising animals. Everyone was eager to talk about hunting, but raising animals didn’t seen to spark the same enthusiastic dialogue.
So I decided to dig a little deeper with some of my students in the elementary school and have a more nuanced discussion about meat. Animals, after all, are essential parts of healthy ecosystems– and all of us in Boulder are a part of this ecosystem whether we care to think about it or not.
To start the conversation, I took students to a small, local goat ranch during kidding season. Kathy, the “goat lady,” introduced each goat by name and taught the group how to harvest milk and make cheese. They learned that goats are wonderful fertilizers and effective noxious weed killers. Most importantly, students learned the incredible lengths farmers go to bring food products such as cheese, milk and meat to their plates. They left with a newfound reverence for Kathy and all the other farmers and ranchers in the Boulder Valley. There is no better education than one in which kids can be engaged with all five senses.
The “ranch” came to life that day. It was no longer just a part of the view. But a place where things happen. A lot transpires between the barbed wire that often gets lost in the bigger picture. And it’s that perspective I hope to bring to students and adults alike. Taking a deeper look is the most important lesson I hope to impart. It’s not just the same old fields on the ride to school every day. But rich places where people make a living, raise food, and honor tradition.
As a 2012 FoodCorps Fellow, I will continue to work to connect students and schools to the source of their food. Specifically, I will be partnering with the Montana Department of Agriculture to open new markets at schools that incentivize ranchers to beef up their cattle in the state. Through intensive infrastructure building and on-the-ground advocacy work, we aim to support local ranchers and processors, build a stronger local economy, create a more dynamic food culture, serve higher quality food in school lunches, and reinvigorate Montana’s rich agricultural legacy.
FoodCorps is a nationwide team of passionate leaders who work to connect kids to real food. As a “Seed Funder,” Annie’s is enabling FoodCorps Fellows to support, guide, and mentor service members who then go out to teach kids about what healthy food is and where it comes from, build and tend school gardens, and bring high-quality local food into public school cafeterias.