Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

February 8, 2017

MISSOULA, Mont. - Year over year, Montana ranks near the top when it comes to producing Peace Corps volunteers, and 2016 was no different. The Treasure State ranked third for number of volunteers per capita, and Missoula ranked first per capita, sending more than 12 volunteers for every 100,000 residents.

Denny Bangs is president of the Western Montana Return Peace Corps Volunteer Association and served in the 1970s. He says part of the reason for high participation rates in Missoula is because of the university located there.

"The idea of public service and international awareness has always been kind of a hallmark of the University of Montana and the Missoula community, so I think it's kind of a good fit," he said.

Bangs says another reason for the high service rate from Montanans could be that Peace Corps volunteers used to train in Bozeman. Now they train in the country they serve in.

Bangs volunteered in Ecuador in 1970. He says after growing up on a small farm in Montana, the Peace Corps gave him an opportunity to see the world, and also see it from someone else's perspective. Afterward, Bangs says he had a new sense of independence and realized how cheap and easy it was to travel.

He says there is a multitude of paths once a person leaves the Corps, including work in the nonprofit sector.

"A lot of people actually will be in a country and they'll see a need in their community that was partially served while they were there as a volunteer but realize that maybe we could do something more, and will come back and work with other people and start nonprofits and stuff," he explained.

He adds that volunteering especially is useful for starting a career in foreign service. Americans who serve for two years in the Peace Corps receive preference in hiring for government jobs. Of his own experience, Bangs says he's made lifelong bonds with some of the Ecuadorians he worked with and still is in contact with them today.


by Tyler Morrison

A Montana February is still far enough away from spring that we have plenty of time to focus on the things that really matter in life. Our hearts and minds turn to within our own homes and prompt us to appreciate those who really mean the most. In fact, every February has a special day on the calendar reminding us to take some time from our busy schedules, to love and adore, with all our heart, what should really be most important in our lives; tailgating food.

I love any occasion which provides a chance to binge, with impunity, on American classic finger foods. Hot wings, bagel bites, (insert absurdly high number here) layer dips, and any dish containing American cheese. I never have quite understood why processed cheeses get such a bad rap. Having spent some time working as a cheese monger, I can assure you gaining familiarity with the manufacturing process of even the snootiest European cheeses will cause an arched eyebrow or two. So, let’s take a brief moment from our football watching and groundhog catching, and learn about the comfort food that no American should be hesitant to serve at their next party.

What is a processed cheese? Well, processed cheese is made from any number of natural cheeses that may vary in sharpness and flavor. These traditional cheeses are shredded and heated to a molten mass. The molten mass of protein, water and oil is emulsified (particles evenly distributed in a fluid) with suitable emulsifying salts to produce a stable oil-in-water emulsion. Depending on the desired end use, the melted mixture is then reformed and packaged into blocks, or as slices, or into tubs or jars.

Interestingly enough, American cheese isn’t really American at all. Although somewhat uncertain, the origins of processed cheese are thought to date back to Swiss cheese fondue. German Kochkase (cooked cheese), French Cancoillotte or Canquillotte and Welsh Rarebit. Kochkase and Cancoillotte were made with coagulated sour milk or skimmed milk; Fondue was made from Swiss cheese, which is a rennet cheese. Soda was added in the preparation of Kochkase, and eggs were used to make Cancoillotte. Wine and/or beer were used to prepare Fondue. Now, admittedly, that all sounds pretty fancy, but the point is the idea of adding other ingredients, (especially salty, acidic ingredients) to adapt a natural cheese for various uses has been around for a long time.

Commercially, the first processed cheese was developed by Walter Gerber and Fritz Stettler in Switzerland in 1911. In this process, natural Emmentaler cheese was shredded and heated with sodium citrate to produce a homogeneous product which firmed when cooled. The initial intent of this product was to improve shelf-life of cheese shipped to warmer climates. This proved to be a huge hit as the now solidified cheese would keep far longer than a traditional cheese, and because of the stabilizing agents added for homogenization, the cheese could be melted without separating into a greasy disaster.

Domestic cheesemaking was transformed forever when Jesse Williams created the first American cheese factory in 1851, in New York. It started as a father-son venture, conceived, in part, to cover for his son's poor cheesemaking skills. By buying up milk from surrounding herds and pooling it to make cheese at one location, Williams made commercial cheesemaking more viable and American cheese more reliably decent. From New York outwards, these new, distinctly American cheese factories spread. Generic, factory cheddar became so common that Americans simply called it "store cheese," or "yellow cheese." Then came James L. Kraft, who in 1903 moved from Canada to Chicago, bought a horse and wagon, and started…well, you know the rest.

Over a hundred and fifty years later, what was known as "American cheese" moved from farmhouse to factory to laboratory, from wheels to waxed blocks to single-serving packets. In the last few decades we've started importing more cheeses of more varieties; and a new wave of "artisanal" cheesemakers promise to revamp the image of American dairy. Still, it's hard to believe that the generic title, "American cheese," will ever be wrenched from the most generic of all cheeses, the topping on Big Macs and grilled cheese sandwiches. What other product could epitomize with such grace this essential tendency in culinary history and the American identity?

by Alyssa Barnes

February 3, 2017

Billings, MT--In our world of modern conveniences, it can sometimes go overlooked that many of the foods lining our grocery store shelves did not originate in a factory. The most basic ingredient in a box of cereal or a bag of Oreos for that matter did indeed grow out of the soil - from a tiny seed; a tiny seed that also grew the forage to nourish the livestock that rounds out your dinner plate with a hearty helping of protein.

For farmers in Montana and beyond, having the right seed to ensure a bountiful harvest is not only paramount to their business sustainability but also their ability to feed the country. That's where Wild Horse Seeds in Havre, Montana comes in.

The company formerly known as McIntosh Seeds started in 1982. Its current name, changed under new ownership in 2002, reflects the company's proximity to nearby Canadian border crossing, the Port of Wild Horse.

Wild Horse Seeds is a Montana Certified Seed Conditioning Plant specializing in cereal grains, legumes and grasses.  The methods they employ to clean, treat and blend seed are designed to bring the highest possible volume and quality crop yields for their customers. To ensure they are doing just that, all seed is tested by a Certified Seed Lab for quality before leaving the facility.

In addition to their product, Wild Horse Seeds' pride in their operation is reflected in the condition of their top-notch facility. "We take great satisfaction in running a tidy operation," said salesman, Nick Lowen.

But conditioning and selling seed isn't all they do.  Wild Horse Seeds is one of the only operators in the state to offer custom harvesting of many native Montana species.  "It's something really unique to us," said Lowen.  "We are always seeking pasture ground to harvest. It's a great way for a landowner to make some money on ground that would otherwise just be sitting there, and we do all the work."

As far as the future of Wild Horse Seeds is concerned, improvements to their facility are continuous. "We are always upgrading bins and equipment.  One project we hope to do in the near future is to build more pea ladders for our outside hopper bins and have a conveyor over our new row of Meridian Hopper bins fed by the cleaning plant," said Lowen.  "We also hope to expand our grass seed business in the near future with contract growing and more custom harvesting of some of the native species."

Attendees of the MATE show will have the opportunity to visit with Nick Lowen at Wild Horse Seeds booth number 88 in the Montana Expo where he will have seed samples and literature on-hand.  "Most of the inquiries I get at the MATE Show are on grass seed," Lowen said.  "Dollar for dollar, it tends to go the farthest."

For more information on Wild Horse Seeds, visit

For more information go to the MATE website or contact Traci (406) 651-0440 This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Big Sky Connection



Eric Tegethoff

January 18, 2017

EAST GLACIER, Mont. - With the cancellation of the final two oil and gas leases at Badger-Two Medicine, a three-decades-long effort in western Montana is one step closer to preserving a landscape with ties to the Blackfeet Nation, dating back 10,000 years.

Last week, the Interior Department canceled the leases and offered reimbursements to the final two holdouts. Now, the local Blackfeet tribe can tread the 130,000 acres without the prospect of future energy development.

 John Murray, the historic preservation officer for the Blackfeet Nation, says even attempts to designate the land as wilderness miss the mark.

"Scenic it might be, but wild it isn't, because it's a living Blackfoot landscape, and we've used it," he said. "We didn't go around putting up billboards of what we did there."

Anthropological research has confirmed the site's historic significance to the Blackfeet Nation. The U.S. Forest Service and Advisory Council on Historic Preservation agreed that development in the area would adversely affect the cultural properties of the Blackfeet people there.

Murray notes the tribe is not against oil and gas drilling. As part of the agreement, the last two leaseholders: Moncrief Oil and the JG Kluthe Family Trust, were offered pre-drilled wells on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation. He says over the years, local leaseholders have voluntarily handed over their claims for oil and gas development on the land.

"Some people relinquished their leases just because they went and seen the place, and couldn't imagine desecrating the landscape," he added.

In the 1980s, the Reagan administration sold oil and gas leases in Badger-Two Medicine for a dollar per acre, without consulting the Blackfeet or conducting an environmental impact study, which led courts to deem the leases illegal.

Tim Preso, the managing attorney for the Northern Rockies office of Earthjustice, says this time, the U.S. government worked with the Blackfeet in a way that it hasn't in the past.

"That they have important interests that are worthy of respect, and worthy of protective action," he explained. "And that's a real departure from the basic arc of history of the United States' relationship with the Blackfeet."

Leaseholder Solonex LLC says it will continue its legal battle to overturn the decision.


Big Sky Connection


Eric Tegethoff

 January, 17, 2017

HELENA, Mont. - Montana's Ryan Zinke is scheduled for his confirmation hearing today to become secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, the first-term congressman would guide the nation's public lands, wildlife and natural resources. But Zinke's sometimes contradictory voting record has conservationists wondering where he stands on these issues.

 Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says Zinke's history when it comes to protecting endangered species isn't encouraging. Of note is a bill Zinke co-sponsored that would have undercut a multi-state effort to protect the greater sage grouse.

 "We have significant concerns about whether Rep. Zinke is going to be able to take a national perspective on the role of the secretary of the Interior as steward of the federal public lands and steward of wildlife and steward of all the natural resources that the federal government owns," he said.

 Dreher points out that the Interior Department oversees a vast array of agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and more.

 Executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, Brian Sybert, says the congressman has voted for legislation that would allow for development in wilderness areas, hurting wildlife. He describes Zinke's voting record when it comes to public lands as "checkered."

 "Given sometimes supporting keeping public lands in public hands, but also at times supporting legislation that could undermine public-lands management and the public's ability to play a role in influencing our public lands," said Sybert.

 At the beginning of this month, Zinke approved a rule change that Sybert criticizes as a step toward transferring public lands to states. The rule change accounts for such a transfer as budget neutral, meaning costs for this action would not have to be offset with the U.S. Treasury. After the vote, Zinke maintained that he does not support the transfer of public lands to states.