2023 - A Year of Momentum and Impact

AERO’s 2023 End of Year Impact Report

By Robin Kelson

Dear AERO friends and allies,

Thanks to your support and stellar efforts by our staff and Board of Directors, 2023 marked another banner year for AERO’s work in Montana. Here are some highlights, with our “End of Year Impact Report” included at the end.

 

It was an honor to host Expo 2023 at Carroll College in Helena, attracting 237 participants to delve into discussions on reliable healthy food systems, on-farm energy, and resilient community design. If you missed Expo, session recordings and the agenda are available here.

Highlights included fantastic music by Aaron Parrett and friends, delectable Montana-sourced meals by Emma Ramirez and Micah Eller, and the annual meeting and Wilbur Wood celebration at the Holter Museum of Art on Friday night.

Another standout moment was the “Moving the Needle” all-hands brainstorm session on Saturday afternoon. Participants collaborated to identify opportunities, challenges, and potential collaborators in seven areas key for building a more sustainable Montana for all: Renewable Energy & Conservation, Food Access, MT Food System/Policy, Land Use and Community Design, Community Food Systems, Farmland Preservation, and Building Demand for Local Food. Explore the Brainstorm Compilation Notes here.

 

In 2023, we successfully concluded our Value-Added Producer Success program, achieving our goal of addressing knowledge gaps resulting from Montana’s 2021 Local Food Choice Act. Over two years, we conducted statewide in-person and online workshops, focusing on liability issues and opportunities under the new law, including two on-farm raw milk production trainings. Additionally, we curated digital resources accessible through our Montana Food System Resources Library. A highlight of 2023 was releasing Montana’s first Food Safety Tool for Home Producers, with over 1800 copies distributed to stakeholders statewide, including public and private agencies, education institutions, and  food sovereignty and food access organizations. For print copies of the Food Safety Tool, please email us: getintouch@aeromt.org. You can download a PDF version here.

 

In 2023, our MFEI program launched the SE Montana/Billings area Community Food System Assessment and completed the Helena area cohort’s Assessment. The Helena cohort is now developing their first project based on their assessment data, while the Billings cohort begins crafting community surveys. Fort Belknap collected data from 133 community surveys throughout 2023 to assess their food sovereignty progress over the past decade and determine next steps for the community.

 

Abundant Montana thrived in 2023, nearly doubling our distribution of Local Food Guides to 25,000 across the state. Reader surveys highlighted the Guide’s impact: 60% purchased local food because of it, 95% reviewed regional listings, 50% shared it with a friend, 48% visited an advertiser’s site, and at least 24% tried a recipe from the Guide. The success of our “Abundant Connections” buyer-producer meet-up underscored the value of this type of value-chain coordination service for the community. With two years of growth and sales now in hand, we dedicated time in the fall to evaluate and redesign our product services to better support Montana’s food and farming businesses, facilitating their ability to sell and buy MT-grown products within the state.

 

33 x33 Campaign: Spurred by reports from the New England Feeding New England alliance this spring, we invited over 100 MT food system stakeholders to collaborate on solutions for growing a resilient and reliable Montana food system. In October, 32 individuals from 22 organizations convened in Helena, followed by 37 participants from 30 organizations in Great Falls in December. Currently, 39 organizations have committed to a campaign aiming for 33% MT-grown food on all Montana plates by 2033. Community engagement is a key focus for the upcoming year. This party’s just getting started. Stay tuned!

 

Our 2024 focus: 

  • Nailing AERO’s 50th celebration, of course!  It’s in Billings, in October, and we need your help to develop the amazing agenda!  Read our Expo 2024 #futuregenMT blog for details and to submit your ideas.
  • Building out our “Three Buckets” future strategic direction, shared at the 2023 Expo and Annual Meeting
  • Achieving or exceeding our revenue goals for 2024, building AERO’s financial sustainability/ability for growing a reliable and resilient MT food system for all Montanans over the next decade.

 

Thank you for your continued support and engagement!

 

All the best,

 

Alternative Energy Resources Organization

Mailing address: PO Box 1558, Helena MT 59624-1558

Physical address: 32 S Ewing St #314, Helena MT 59601