By Robin Kelson
Dear AERO friends,
We are just thrilled to celebrate with you all our successes this year at AERO through our “End of Year Report.” (Scroll to the bottom to jump to the report.)
As we look back on the year, one of our absolute favorite memories was of Expo, held at Arrowpeak Lodge in the Highwood Mountains. As many of you have shared, the 2.5 days of visiting, dancing, shared meals, and conversations with new friends and old were such a welcome balm after two years on Zoom. Amen to that! More broadly, Expo’s theme of Cultivating Resiliency, explored through the lens of “stewardship agriculture”, really captured the essence of AERO’s work now and in the coming decade. This theme and lens capture the culture of stewardship that is at the heart of our AERO community and our programming. Stewardship of planetary resources, of our communities, and of food producing resources—human, animal, plant, and land. This culture drives our conversations, our questions, and the creative solutions we dream up.
At Expo, we explored our theme with great discussions spearheaded by an array of community experts, focusing on topics in three tracks: Reimagining the Economy of Stewardship Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Food Culture, and Access Routes to Sustainable Stewardship. If you missed the event, you can check out the tours and event details here, including keynote speaker videos, and meet all the presenters here.
While Abundant Montana officially launched in November 2021, 2022 is the year we surpassed our goal of 1,000 listings on our interactive Find Food & Farm Map, increased our team to 10, we produced the inaugural issue of the Local Food Guide, 13,500 copies no less, distributed around the state. You, Montana’s agriculture stewards, are represented everywhere in the magazine—in the listings, the advertisements, and the stories that capture the heart and soul of our collective work. If you haven’t yet got your hands on a copy, you can read it online here. Our goal with Abundant Montana is nothing short of building the demand for thoughtfully produced food and the Montana stewards who grow and sell it.
The passage of the Local Food Choice Act in 2021 presented new opportunities and challenges to cottage food and value-added producers and Farmers Markets. We are proud of how quickly we were able to pivot our Value Added Producer Success program in response. From the beginning, AERO’s commitment to cottage food has been to support value-added producer success and build consumer confidence. We re-designed our programming to fill the knowledge gaps that the new law presented, with statewide informational workshops on managing liability risks, and on-farm trainings for safe production of raw milk. We’ll continue this work in 2023.
2022 also marked the launch of the first of three Community Food System Assessments (CFSAs) through our MT Food Economy Initiative. We launched in Helena in 2022, and will add Fort Belknap in 2023, and Billings in 2024. These overlapping 18-month assessments are designed to bring together stakeholders from all sectors of the community to collaboratively develop a common understanding of what a functioning system or “food web” in a community looks like today and help develop community relationships and networks for sustainable momentum. We love this work because it’s a way to engage with community stewards with all different points of view around a common purpose—and we love implementing it with help from a wonderful 6-person Advisory Board and our Abundant MT Local Food Coordinators, who provide valuable boots-on-the-ground support. And Helena agrees! You can read more about our assessments here.
Looking ahead: 2023 will be a year of building on our current programs—expanding our reach with Abundant Montana and, hopefully, the demand for local food; providing more resources for value-added producers, and launching our Fort Belknap assessment. For Expo, we’re re-imagining its scope and focus in this, AERO’s 49th year. Look for details revealed in our next newsletter!
Thank you for your continued support and engagement.
All the best,