Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

November 21, 2016

MISSOULA, Mont. - Thanksgiving is a time when families get together and eat wonderful food.

But some Montanans are less fortunate during the holidays.

One in seven people in Montana struggles with hunger, including nearly 48,000 children who aren't sure where their next meal will come from.

Gayle Gifford, CEO of the Montana Food Bank Network, says the BackPack meals program provides meals for low-income children over the weekend when they aren't getting school meals.

"Through the holiday breaks, we'll have them take extra home," she explains. "Some schools will even choose to have their school pantry open during the holidays so they can still benefit from that, especially if there isn't any other emergency services available to them."

Gifford says 7,700 backpacks are typically distributed, but that number spikes to 11,000 during November and December.

Gifford says the Montana Food Bank Network begins prepping for the holiday season six to eight months in advance. This year the organization brought in about 40,000 pounds each of turkey and ham.

But despite the great need for food assistance in Montana, a stigma toward going to food pantries still exists. Gifford says that's slowly changing.

"You'll see a lot of families go there and they're very welcomed and the volunteers and employees that work at these pantries get to know their clients and understand the sensitivity and, really, how uncomfortable it can be for them - and they try to release that for them," she relates.

Gifford says the food bank network does not yet serve the most rural counties of Montana, but the organization is working on getting pantries established there.

The network also has used mobile food pantries to serve rural parts of the state.


November 18, 2016

Billings - Holiday ArtWalk and Christmas Stroll combine for a festive night in downtown on Friday, December 2, 2016 from 5 – 9 p.m.  

The Holiday ArtWalk, the fourth of five events in ArtWalk's 22nd Season, features 29 Season galleries and eight one-time participants.  First time appearances on the ArtWalk are being made by FieldHouse Annex, Coffeehouse and Bakery, Magpie Jewelry and Vintage Apothecary. 

The far east end of downtown will be particularly lively, with shows at A Home Vet (celebrating its grand opening and an animal-themed art exhibit), Qs Art Shop and Framing (hosting Growth through Art's fundraiser), both at 1511- 6th Avenue North, plus multiple artists at Beyond the Box, 724-1st Avenue North, and SCRaP, in its new location at 7 North 18th Street.

All ArtWalk events are free.  Many sites offer music and refreshments.  Featured artists greet visitors and discuss their art and the creative process.  ArtWalk is a perfect time to view and purchase original art and fine crafts and connect with others who love art and the creative process.  

More information about Holiday ArtWalk, including maps, gallery notes and photos, can be found at:, on and at   Printed maps are available at all participating sites on ArtWalk nights.

For more information, contact:

Virginia Bryan, President

Artwalk Downtown Billings

2815 - 2nd Avenue North

Billings, Montana 59101

406.696.7121 or 690.1662

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Big Sky Connection


Eric Tegethoff

November 16, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - The ancient plains of Montana once hosted herds of animals that grazed the land. Now, cattle and other domesticated animals do that work.

According to former environmental lawyer and author Nicolette Hahn Niman, the planet actually is grazed far less than it used to be. Her book "Defending Beef: The Case for Sustainable Meat Production" explores the benefits of raising cattle and the positive effects it can have on the land - when it's done correctly.

"Rather than so much attention being paid to the negative impacts of cattle when they're poorly managed," she said, "we should be focusing on the tremendous benefits of well-managed grazing."

Cattle ranching has been criticized by some as contributing to climate change. However, Hahn Niman said, well-managed grazing can improve soil health and even help sequester carbon dioxide. She said it also can help keep water in the soil.

The Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation manages more than 4 million acres of land classified for grazing across the state.

Hahn Niman defended eating meat in her book as well. While she believes the industrialization of the livestock industry isn't the healthiest approach to producing meat, she said that doesn't mean meat production should be halted completely.

"Eliminating livestock is literally throwing the baby out with the bathwater, because there are so many benefits to having livestock in the food system," she said. "We need to correct some of the problems that have come about through modern systems, but we really need to have these animals."

Hahn Niman will be the keynote speaker at the Northern Plains Resource Council's 45th annual meeting on Friday and Saturday in Billings. Other topics include oil-by-rail safety, the future of coal, and accessing financing for clean energy. The public can hear Hahn Niman speak on Saturday morning. Information on how to attend is online at


November 15, 2015
Billings, MT - The Downtown Billings Alliance, in collaboration with Big Sky Economic Development Small Business Development Center, Montana State University Billings, and Rocky Mountain College, is happy to announce the finalists in the Battle of Plans business plan competition.
Battle of the Plans was launched in February 2016 to serve as a catalyst to encourage entrepreneurs to submit their business concept for consideration to open or expand a storefront in the heart of downtown Billings. The competition also includes a college student category.
The selection committee received 40 business concepts. The field was narrowed down to 17 applicants in round two of the competition. There are 9 remaining applicants in the final round which is the 'presentation round'.
The finalists in the new business category are Get Juiced, Yellowstone Biking, Something Chic, Vintage Apothecary, This House of Books, and Storks and Kangaroos. The finalists in the expansion category are Meow Salon/Boutique and the Pub Station. The college submission up for consideration is Back Roads Brewing and Canning.
The final round will be held at 1pm, on Friday, November 18th at 1pm at the Petroleum Club, located in the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Billings, 27 N. 27th Street. Each contestant will have 5 minutes to present their business concept and plan, followed by a question and answer period from the selection committee. Three winners will be announced on Small Business Saturday at 10am at MoAv Coffee Shop, 2501 Montana Avenue. Prize packages for the new and expansion categories include rental assistance, advertising package, mentoring and membership in the Downtown Billings Alliance, Big
Sky Economic Development and the Billings Chamber of Commerce. A cash award will be given to the winning college entry.


Battle of the Plans

Business Plan Competition


12:45pm - Opening Statement

New Business Category

1:00-1:05pm - Presentation: SomethingChic, Linda Brooks & Kandis Wessel

1:05-1:20pm - Q&A

1:20-1:30pm - Change Out

1:30-1:35pm - Presentation: Storks & Kangaroos, Clementine Lindley

1:35-1:50pm - Q&A

1:50-2:00pm - Change Out

2:00-2:05pm - Presentation: Get Juiced, Nicole Griffin

2:05-2:20pm - Q&A

2:20-2:30pm - Change Out

2:30-2:35pm - Presentation: Yellowstone Biking, Alan Loomis

2:35-2:50pm - Q&A

2:50-3:00pm - Change Out

3:00-3:05pm - Presentation: Vintage Apothecary, Melissa Scianna

3:05-3:20pm - Q&A

*Already Presented: Gary Robson This House of Books

Existing Expansion

3:20-3:30pm - Change Out

3:30-3:35pm - Presentation: Pub Station, Ann Kosempa

3:35-3:50pm - Q&A

3:50-4:00pm - Change Out

4:00-4:05pm - Presentation: Meow Salon & Boutique, Melissa O’Donnell

4:05-4:20pm - Q&A

Student Submission

4:20-4:30pm - Change Out

4:30-4:35pm - Presentation: BR Brewing & Canning, Audrey Henderson

4:35-4:50pm - Q&A

4:50-5:00pm - Closing Statement

Big Sky Connection               

Eric Tegethoff

November 14, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - Although the fate of the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan is up in the air now that Donald Trump has been elected president, at least part of Colstrip's coal-fired power plant is still likely to close by 2022.

Peter DeJesus, field coordinator for Western New York Area Labor Federation, saw a similar transition in his western New York town of Tonawanda when the NRG Energy-owned Huntley coal plant shut down.

DeJesus says the conversation on how the town would transition and diversify its economy started with community members, including labor unions and environmentalists.

"They came in with the understanding of, 'We're not calling for the closure of this plant,'" DeJesus relates. "'We want to prepare ourselves and be proactive should this plant actually close or be decommissioned, whatever it may be. And we're willing to do whatever we can to support the workers. We just want to make sure we're prepared.'

"So, I think that helped to guide the conversation with the workforce that was in the NRG facility."

DeJesus says the city had to deal with a $6 million budget hit when the plant shut down. The majority of the coal plant workers transferred to other plants.


He adds closing the NRG facility opened up access to a large portion of the town's waterfront for redevelopment.


DeJesus says Tonawanda is not unique. Coal plants across the country are closing, and he's convinced this western New York town could be a model for revitalizing towns when plants leave.


"If you don't have the right people at the table - people who are actually willing to talk to each other and really understand each other, and willing to have respect for each organization's individual identity - it can't work," DeJesus stresses. "So, I think it's something that absolutely can be replicated if you have the right people in the room."


DeJesus will be part of a panel about the future of coal at the 45th Annual Meeting of the Northern Plains Resource Council in Billings on Saturday. It's open to the public and more information is online at