Thank you to everyone who joined us at AERO’s 49th Annual Expo! This event is now complete, and you can still reference the materials and session descriptions below. Recordings of sessions are available on our YouTube Channel or through the links beside each description below.
MOVING THE NEEDLE: Read the brainstorm compilation notes here.
This “all-hands” session occurred at the end of Saturday’s discussions and workshops. Here, everyone brought their knowledge and ideas to list the opportunities, challenges, and collaborators still to engage for making change in these seven areas key to 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.
AERO’s 49th Annual Expo, took place in Helena, MT on October 20 & 21st, 2023. Just about 200 friends, new and old, gathered for this community event.
Our very first gathering was in 1974, and led to the establishment of AERO as an organization. It was an opportunity to share information and ideas on issues that mattered to Montanans, with the goal of finding practical solutions that work. Nearly 50 years later, that tradition continues.
This year’s Expo theme was Moving the Needle: Building Whole-Community Engagement with Local Food, Stewardship Agriculture, and Renewable Energy. Below, you can find details about the weekend, including the schedule and agenda, tour and session descriptions, and more. There is also information about our special memorial event celebrating the life and legacy of AERO founder and friend, Wilbur Wood, which took place on the first night of Expo at the Holter Museum of Art. Saturday’s conference sessions were held at Carroll College in the Lower Campus Center.
Stay tuned for our 50th anniversary Expo celebration, coming October 2024 in Billings, where it all began!
-Your AERO & Abundant Montana Team
10:00am-4:00pm – Community tours (see tour options below)
4:00pm – Expo Check-In starts at the Holter Museum of Art
5:00pm – Welcome and Announcements
5:30pm – Potluck Dinner and Cake Auction (Bring a dish and/or cake to share! Bring cash for the auction!)
7:15pm – Annual Meeting
8:15pm – Celebrating the Life and Legacy of AERO Founder Wilbur Wood (scroll down for more information)
Five tour options offered Friday of Expo weekend:
10:00-11:30am—Meeting the Needs of the Community: Addressing Hunger in the Greater Helena Area
Founded in 1987, Helena Food Share provides emergency food to over 1,500 local families each month. Join us as we tour the food pantry and learn about how Helena Food Share is continually adapting to support the 1 in 7 Helena residents (and 1 in 5 children) struggling with hunger and food insecurity. HFS will also share plans for their new Community Food Resource Center, which will utilize energy efficient building design and include an expanded food market, warehouse space, a production kitchen, teaching kitchen, and community gathering space. Tour capped at 30 participants.
10:00-11:30am—Restoration, Conservation & Agriculture: A Walk Through the Sevenmile Restoration Site
Just a few miles NW of Helena, Prickly Pear Land Trust owns and manages the 358 acre Sevenmile Creek Project Area. Historically used for agricultural purposes, PPLT is working with a host of public and private partners to reestablish the landscape as a functioning floodplain. Rebuilding the degraded Sevenmile Creek will help native wildlife, vegetation, and fisheries to expand and thrive, while also relieving flooding downstream and preventing sediments from entering Helena’s water. Join for a short 2 mile interpretive walk guided by PPLT. Tour capped at 30 participants. Note: We will be off-trail walking through pastures and along gravel roads. Bring appropriate footwear and clothing.
12:30-1:45pm—A Peek Into the Kitchen: Local Food Procurement at The Hopper (LUNCH TOUR)
The Hopper, established in 2022, specializes in scratch-made and locally sourced fare. While enjoying lunch, we will meet owners Dan and Chelsi Bay, and see behind the scenes into how this business is procuring local ingredients. Tour capped at 25 participants. Lunch costs $7-$17 per person.
2:30-4:00pm—Nourished by the Soil, Powered by the Sun: Solar Energy and Community Gardens
Helena Community Gardens manages 10 gardens across the city. Jubilee Garden at St. Mary’s Catholic Church also shares space with a solar system, which powers the parish and priest’s living quarters. Volunteers have also been experimenting with growing produce within the solar array between the panels, maximizing the use of this small urban space. On this tour, we will speak with members of the St. Mary’s Community and Helena Community Gardens, as well as solar experts, about the natural pairing of gardens and solar energy systems. Tour capped at 40 participants.
2:30-4:00pm—Widening the Processing Bottleneck: Old Salt Co-op’s New Butchering Facilities
Talk with anyone who produces meat in Montana, and they will tell you that there are not enough options for local processing in the state. Just four meatpacking companies control 85% of the market in the US, and local processors frequently get backlogged (the number of cattle slaughtered in Montana increased 75% during the pandemic). Enter Old Salt Co-op. Old Salt is establishing its own vertically integrated processing in the Helena area which can handle multiple species for both custom exempt and USDA inspected meat products. We will visit both the new slaughter facility and cut & wrap facility, and chat with owner Cole Mannix about the challenges and opportunities for local processing. Tour capped at 40 participants.
7:30am—Morning check in begins in the Lower Campus Center at Carroll College
8:30am—Welcome and Special Messages
12:00pm-1:45pm—Lunch and MSU Student Poster Session
3:15-4:45pm—Group brainstorming session: Moving the Needle Together
5:00pm-7:00pm—Happy hour with appetizers, silent auction, closing statements. Live music by Aaron & Nann Parrett!
7:00pm-onward—Downtown “after party” (location TBD)
State of the Food System: Helena Reports on its Community Food System Assessment- Helena is one of three Montana communities that AERO currently is supporting in conducting their own in-depth assessment into the state of their local food system. A year into this 18-month process, come hear from Helena community stakeholders about what’s working in the system now, where the gaps are, and their proposed next steps for taking action to build a more reliable and functional local food system that serves everyone. Michal De Chellis, AERO’s Community Assessment Program Manager, will lead the discussion and also share about the community assessments underway in Billings and the Fort Belknap communities. No recording available.
On-Farm Water Conservation in Montana: Stories from the Field- As the Mountain West continues to face worsening drought conditions that impact food production, water conservation in agricultural production is a growing concern. The LOR Foundation’s Field Work initiative offers grants to farmers and ranchers to implement innovative water projects, with the overarching goal of supporting those in the field who may have potential solutions for improving water efficiency in the future of agriculture. Hear from the LOR Foundation and grant recipients across Montana, and learn practical solutions and technologies for stewarding on-farm water usage. View session recording here.
Feeding Ourselves Sustainably by Centering Justice, Equity and Sovereignty in Our Action- Foundational to the well-being and sustainability of all communities—indigenous and settler alike—is reliable access to nourishing, healthy food for all. It not only nourishes the body and soul, it can provide critical financial stability to the community’s local economy. In this session, we will hear from: Kara Snyder (Helena Food Share), Gretchen Boyer (Land to Hand Montana), Sharon Small (Netsema’aestsehe’e, Red Eagle Woman; Northern Cheyenne’s People’s Partner for Community Development), and Lisa Lee (Montana Partnership to End Childhood Hunger, MT-PECH). These four women powerhouses will share how their community social enterprises are centering food justice, food sovereignty and food equity in their programs to ensure a sustainable, nourishing future for everyone. View session recording here.
On-Farm Renewable Energy, REAP and the IRA- Learn about new programs and funding opportunities through the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), including the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP), and get inspired by Montana farmers and ranchers who are converting their operations to renewable systems. In this session, we will hear from Makenna Sellers, Executive Director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA), and Stacie Peterson, Energy Program Director for the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) and manager of NCAT’s Agrisolar Clearinghouse. View session recording here.
Grow Montana: How Our State’s Food Policy Coalition is Shifting the Narrative to a Self-Reliant Montana Food System- Grow Montana is a broad-based food policy coalition whose common purpose is to promote community economic development and education policies that support sustainable Montana-owned food production, processing, and distribution, and that improve all of our citizens’ access to healthy Montana foods. We’ll be inviting your input and participation in this interactive session as we move forward with our initiatives of a Food Sovereignty Partnership, NW & Rocky Mountain Regional Food Business Center steering committee involvement (together with MT Dept of Agriculture’s Andy Fjeseth), and our engagement with the 2023 Farm Bill. View session recording here.
Farmland Preservation in Urban and Rural Settings- Montana’s agricultural lands are ecologically, economically, socially and historically essential, yet increased development pressure is causing farms and ranches to disappear at an alarming rate. In this session, we will explore strategies for farmland preservation, both in rural and urban contexts. Dr. Neva Hassanein (University of Montana) will describe the vision behind Missoula’s Corner Farm Village, which integrates farmland and strategic development opportunities, and Travis Vincent of Prickly Pear Land Trust will share about rural land conservation efforts in the Helena area. We also will hear from Christian Meny of Montana Audobon about stewardship incentive programs to protect grassland bird habitat. View session recording here.
How Abundant Montana is Moving the Needle on Local Food- Abundant Montana is our state’s Local Food Megaphone! We’re now two years into our expanded multi-media educational and marketing platform. Come learn how AMT is making it easy for anyone to find and choose local food. We’ll take you behind the scenes of our annual Local Food Guide magazine and Meet Your Farmer videos, and share stories from local producers and food businesses who are thriving by building their Montana markets. View session recording here.
DIY Energy Demo: Old School Energy Self-Sufficiency! Tried and true techniques to reduce your energy footprint! AERO Member and Helena local Ann Wilsnack will demonstrate some of the technologies and practices she and her family have employed to live lightly in their urban Helena home for over 20 years. No session recording available.
Thoughtful Community Design for a Growing Population: Exploring Land Use Planning, Affordable Housing and Climate-Friendly Design- Montana is a great place to live, and the word has gotten out. How do we keep up with the levels of growth we have seen in recent years while also ensuring that Montana communities remain affordable and retain the characteristics that give them their particular sense of place? In this session, we will explore design and land use planning solutions for Montana cities to help us reduce our carbon footprint, meet our housing needs, and generally plan for the future. Panelists include Gallatin County Senior Planner Garrett McAllister, MEIC’s Sustainable Communities Policy Director Ann Schwend, and ‘agrihood’ researcher Amaia Sagroniz of MSU Bozeman. View session recording here.
AFTERNOON GROUP SESSION
Moving the Needle: Group Brainstorming Session- This year’s Expo tours and sessions all center around the theme of building whole-community engagement with local food, stewardship agriculture, and renewable energy. Our vision is reliable and resilient Montana-based food systems that nourish us and future generations. But how do we together grow this movement, and go beyond just ‘preaching to the choir’? Bring your own knowledge and expertise, and any learnings from the day’s sessions, and come ready to participate and collaborate in this group brainstorming session that gets at the heart of our theme. No session recording available.
Wilbur Wood was a life-long leader in Montana’s sustainable energy movement, as well as a poet, essayist, and activist. We at AERO are deeply grateful for all the ways Wilbur shaped and shepherded the organization for nearly 50 years. We invite you as we celebrate our dear friend and his legacy on the first evening of Expo.
This celebration will take place on Friday October 20th from 8:15pm-9:15pm at the Holter Museum of Art in Helena. It is an opportunity to share memories, tell stories, read poetry, and celebrate a life well-lived in service to building a better world for us all. You are more than welcome to join us beforehand for our annual Potluck Dinner (starting at 5:30pm, also at the Holter Museum–bring a dish!), or come just for the celebration.
If you plan to only attend dinner the memorial celebration you do not need to register for Expo, but please RSVP with Gillian at email@example.com.
There are plenty of great options for lodging in Helena! We’ve listed a few venues here for your convenience. We recommend making arrangements well in advance.
Best Western Premier Helena Great Northern Hotel
835 Great Northern Blvd, Helena MT 59601
Lamplighter Cabin & Suites
1006 Madison Ave, Helena MT 59601
Budget Inn Express Downtown Helena
524 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
DoubleTree by Hilton Helena Downtown
22 N Last Chance Gulch, Helena, MT 59601
Room and home rentals through Airbnb.com or Vrbo.com
Friday evening will be a potluck dinner with a cake auction, so please bring a dish to share. On Saturday we will provide coffee/tea (courtesy of Java Jim!), and mid-morning snack, lunch, and hearty evening hors d’oeuvres catered by Helena’s own Micah Eller and Emma Ann Ramirez. Meals will include vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options. When you register please share any food allergies you need us to know.
All other meals are on your own – enjoy exploring the great selection available in Helena’s downtown!
Your sponsorship helps create this special annual event where our community of social entrepreneurs gathers from around the state to share ideas, learn new skills, and strategize to build a more sustainable Montana for all. It’s an easy way to support AERO and great exposure for your organization, business, farm or product.
Click the button below to sponsor, or contact Gillian Thornton Andrews at firstname.lastname@example.org.