AERO Today: a community-centric focus on building resilient community food webs

In 1974, AERO formed with the intention of helping build a sustainable Montana for all. In the early decades this meant promoting and aiding the development of renewable, non-polluting energy through research, education and legislation, and helping launch Montana’s sustainable agriculture movement through farm clubs, producer conventions, and organic certification. Now the mantle of AERO’s groundbreaking work has been taken on and developed by other, talented organizations, enterprises and institutions across the state, and Montana can proudly claim a strong foundation in renewable energy and sustainable agriculture. We invite you to listen to the story of AERO’s 45+ years of impact in this collection of interviews by the members and founders who helped create that impact.

Today, “helping build a more sustainable Montana for all” means two things for AERO:

  • working at the community level – supporting the success of the organizations, enterprises, and institutions now doing the foundational work, and bringing community stakeholders concerned with developing sustainable, resilient, healthy food economies together to forge lasting partnerships that build place-based, values-driven community food systems and webs with climate-smart solutions, and
  • unpacking the racial inequities embedded in our Montana food system. Food justice and racial equity have been an active part of our programming and partnerships since Dr. Ricardo Salvador’s inspired keynote address at our 2019 Expo invited us to expand our understanding in these areas. We are forever grateful to Dr. Salvador for helping us see our blindspots and expand our perceptions.

All AERO programs & projects have three main components:

We believe – the key to a sustainable Montana for all in this millennium is robust, resilient, community-based food systems and webs, which require engagement by all members of a community. Agricultural endeavors have some of the largest impacts on Montana economies, resources, landscapes, and energy use. Therefore, every AERO program and project helps Montanans achieve robust, healthy, energy efficient and climate smart community-based food systems/webs. Forty five years of building trust and relationships with producers & communities have uniquely prepared us for this task.

We believe  – that the best solutions are rooted in meaningful relationships. Therefore, every AERO program and project achieves its goals through a mechanism of community building. We convene communities to facilitate changemaking. Our gatherings provide space for Montanans to identify common values and challenges, and empower them to take action in their communities with the purpose of nurturing and promoting robust and resilient community-based food systems development across the state.

We believe – the power of demonstration influences and inspires people to take action. Therefore, every AERO program and project showcases examples of successful improvements to Montana’s community-based food systems and shares them widely so others may learn and be inspired to make their own changes. One of the largest challenges to building resilient community food systems is getting buy-in from all participants: producers, consumers, processors, distributors, and recyclers. AERO expands community buy-in by documenting and sharing the processes by which change occurs. Through compelling storytelling and direct access to examples, we connect participants with resources, tools, and knowledge.

What we mean by “community-based food system”

While there are a number of academic and layman models outlining components of a food system, the figure below captures the way AERO summarizes the complex elements of a community food system. Inherently values-based, community food systems are defined contextually by the communities we work with, to determine the appropriate scales for their projects. However, regardless of differences, communities are participating in a collaborative network that integrates sustainable food production, processing, distribution, consumption, and resource recovery in order to enhance the environmental, economic, and social health of a community. This emphasis on environmental, economic, and social health runs counter to the dominant model of industrial food production and seeks to mitigate negative impacts inherent to that model.

Our Project Criteria:

A project, program, or event is an AERO opportunity if it fulfills the following criteria:

  • Demonstrates Equity: is fair, just, and equitable
  • Improves Resilience: improves community or statewide resilience. Builds new kinds of partnerships and connects people to resources. Models community ownership and investment.
  • Adopts Appropriate Scale: addresses a grassroots identified need for sustainability in Montana; project scale fits the need it is addressing; complements AERO’s larger balance of statewide and local projects
  • Engages and Empowers Members: has roles for members of AERO’s community of sustainability enthusiasts – to provide meaningful contributions, be they financially contributing members of AERO, volunteers, E-News readers or social media followers, and ways for AERO members and potential members.
  • Develops or Fills AERO Niche: AERO is determined to be the best, most qualified organization to implement, collecting outside perspectives when appropriate.
  • Exemplifies Sustainability: incorporates the principles of sustainability itself, including a plan for longevity, as appropriate.
  • Builds Community: has support of other organizations, as well as the support of the community / people it will directly impact; has ability to improve long term community capacity.
  • Conveys A Story: advances the AERO narrative, demonstrates our impact in concrete quantitative or qualitative ways, or otherwise exemplifies our vision for a sustainable Montana for all; motivates people to get involved or make a change.
  • Operates Within Capacity: AERO has the ability to execute the roles and tasks expected
  • “Builds A Barn”: possesses those innate “AERO type” qualities that simultaneously bring people together, spark conviviality, spread hope, and create something special; leaves a place improved and people feeling connected.

Alternative Energy Resources Organization

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

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