Weaving Networks. Building Community. Cultivating Sustainability.

Why We’re Here

Working at the intersection of renewable energy, stewardship agriculture, and healthy community food systems, we are committed to promoting a more sustainable Montana for all.  

Our niche is providing practical, solution-based education that fills information gaps to produce lasting foundational change in Montana communities and enterprises.

Here’s a brief overview of our history, impact, and future direction.

Who We Are

Founded by imaginative pragmatists in 1974, AERO is a community of social entrepreneurs dedicated to building the world in which we want to live.

We have a producer-centric focus, helping communities and enterprises build place-based, values-driven community food systems and food webs with climate-healthy solutions.

We believe in partnerships and networks, and know that community, and rebuilding our connection to our food, our land and to each other, is the future of sustainability and resiliency.

The well-being of Montana’s future generations is at the heart of all our work in the world.

Our Mission

Moving forward, we are growing resilient and reliable Montana food system for all Montanans, working in these three focus areas:

  • Building consumer demand for Montana-grown food
  • Building Montana market channels for Montana farmers and ranchers
  • Building community knowledge, networks, and resources that strengthen Montana community food systems and webs.
Our Vision

We envision a Montana powered with clean, renewable energy, empowered by a collaborative network of resilient communities, and where all Montanans are nourished by a resilient and reliable Montana food system of health-giving, Montana-grown, culturally-relevant foods.

Solar array on the Timeless Seeds, Inc. processing facility in Ulm, Montana.

WHAT WE DO: We are growing a more resilient and reliable Montana food system by:

Building Consumer Demand

Through our Abundant Montana program, we run multimedia education campaigns that educate Montana individuals and institutions about why local food matters and where to find it so there is an increased and reliable demand for Montana-grown food.  Services include:

  • Find Food and Farms Map, listing over 1,000 MT-grown food growers, retailers, and restaurants
  • Annual Local Food Guide magazine, a free, full-color publication highlighting our Map listers, with recipes, local food champion stories, and a Farmers Market Guide. 25,000 copies are distributed statewide each spring to farmers markets, restaurants, retailers, grocery stores, libraries and visitor centers
  • coordinated social media campaigns on Facebook and Instagram designed to engage, inspire, and educate consumers about the value of Montana-grown food and where to find it.
Building MT Market Channels

Through our Abundant Montana Program, we help Montana farmers and ranchers develop new and expanded market opportunities within the state with both individual and institutional/wholesale buyers through a series of value chain coordination (VCC) services, including promotion, marketing technical assistance, and fostering business-to-business connections, so producers have reliable markets to sell their products in Montana.

Building Community Knowledge, Networks & Resources

We facilitate whole-community efforts that increase knowledge, networks, resources, and relationships so communities can design local food systems that work for them because strong, food secure communities are the heart of a resilient and reliable Montana food system.

Our activities in this area are varied, and include:

Our Story

Birthed out of the energy crisis of the 1970s on a front porch in downtown Billings, AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization) was created to spread the word about practical ways Montanans could implement renewable energy alternatives on their farms and ranches, and in their homes. At a time when the likelihood of eastern Montana becoming a “national sacrifice area” for domestic coal power production was high, AERO’s traveling “New Western Energy Show” and hands-on workshops around the state provided people with new options, real solutions, and optimism.

For decades, through community organization and education, AERO has provided space for people to share ideas, particularly ideas that might appear risky, and was instrumental in helping Montanans discover the value first in renewable energy and later, sustainable (now “regenerative”) agriculture. AERO’s annual meeting, Expo, became an opportunity to share information and ideas on issues that mattered to Montanans, with the goal of finding practical solutions that worked. In 2024, AERO will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In 1974, when AERO formed, sustainable energy ideas like solar and wind power were considered novel and unorthodox. By 2000, AERO’s work had paved the way for the Judith Gap Wind Farm (Montana’s first major wind power project), the founding of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, a myriad of community and rural cooperative solar projects, and renewable energy legislation in Montana, among other projects. In 2007, the AERO Energy Task Force published Repowering Montana: A Blueprint for Montana’s Home-Grown Energy Self-Reliance. Their work showed that Montana could produce all its electrical needs with renewables, and all its agriculture fuel needs with MT-grown oilseed diesel, without compromising food production acreage.

In 1984, AERO members established the AERO Ag Task Force to address the growing interest of member farmers and ranchers in sustainable agriculture – farming and ranching without chemical inputs, in alignment with nature. They marketed this approach as, “enabling farmers to make better use of sunlight.”

This task force, in many ways, filled gaps universities and government departments didn’t, and built a path for the sustainable farming and healthy soil practices that Montana benefits from today, significantly influencing food and agriculture policy along the way. In the late 1990’s the Ag Task Force began exploring how to get this healthy, sustainably grown food to more Montanans, and Abundant Montana was born.

You can learn more about the AERO Ag Task Force’s work and impact, including the birth of Timeless Seeds, Inc., in Liz Carlisle’s book “The Lentil Underground: Renegade Farmers and the Future of Food in America”, and in chapter 2 of Ken Meter’s book “Building Community Food Webs”, including the birth of Abundant Montana.

The first “Directory to Montana Food” produced by Abundant Montana in 1998 listed 38 food and farming businesses and 12 farmers markets, the total in the state at the time. It also included tips for chefs wanting to purchase direct from a farmer in the days before widespread email and internet; and ride shares for delivering food across the state in the years before our current in-state distribution networks. It was the precursor to what is now the “Local Food Guide.”

Today, Abundant Montana is a multi-media effort, building consumer demand, in-state market sales channels for Montana-based food and farming businesses, and community knowledge, resources, and networks so communities can design local food systems that work for them. The Find Food and Farms Map lists over 1,100 enterprises and 70 farmers markets, including a network of food and agriculture resources, coalitions, and trade organizations launched in the wake of the Ag Task Force’s efforts.

Abundant Montana’s expansion developed from community partner conversations and support in the wake of the pandemic-induced food system disruptions of 2020. Special thanks to Montana Farmers Union, Hopa Mountain, Mission West Community Development Partners, Community Food & Agriculture Coalition, Double SNAP Dollars, MT Food Bank Network, TEAM Nutrition Montana, Harvest of the Month, Land to Hand Montana, Timeless Seeds, Inc., Helping Hands, FAST Blackfeet, Oro & Plata Foundation, Open & Local, Helena Food Share, and Livingston Food Resource Center.

Ask any legacy AERO member the secret to AERO’s success and you are likely to hear one or more of the following as key ingredients:

  • Provide a welcoming non-partisan environment where risky, unorthodox ideas can be shared and explored.
  • Recognize that lasting change is progressive and incremental, and the best learning comes when those most invested in finding a solution teach each other.
  • Cherish the priceless value of in-person conversations for building community and lasting engagement.

Alternative Energy Resources Organization

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

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