Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 14, 2016

BILLINGS, Mont. - If you want to get higher yields from a farm, start with the health of the soil. That's one rule being shared by a speaker at Northern Plains Resource Council's first Soil Summit, which takes place in Billings on Saturday and is open to the public.

Blain Hjertaas, a sustainable rancher in Saskatchewan, will share information at the conference about the advantages of a farming technique he calls "regenerative agriculture," which he said improves degraded soil and could produce higher earnings for ranchers.

"And it basically means building soil and as you do that, it makes the food produced healthier, it makes the water infiltrate better," he said. "It takes carbon from the atmosphere, puts it down into the earth, and it makes the yields higher, and more profit for the farmer."

Over the past five years, Hjertaas explained he has been measuring carbon levels in the soil to get a picture of how it's doing. He and other farmers have set up a soil-monitoring system at more than 300 sites across North America to assess how fast each farmer can capture carbon. They'll compare notes in the next few years.

Hjertaas said the fact that healthier soil can produce healthier food is no small matter either. Referring to poor-quality crops, he said the current state of the soil in many areas is a direct indicator of public health at large.

"If I take a look at society in general, I would conclude that it's not terribly healthy," he added. "We have epidemic levels of diabetes, cancer, autoimmune diseases, allergies, all these things. And from the knowledge that I have learned over the last number of years, soil health, and human health are directly related."

Hjertaas will also speak about the benefits of carbon sequestration to help offset the effects of climate change. To find out more about the conference, look online at

Billings, MT - Call to Artists! Submit your work to the Yellowstone Art Museum's 49th Annual Art Auction. The event takes place March 4th, 2017. Submission deadline is Friday, October 14th, 2016.  Submission is free for all artists.  The juror will be Kenneth L. Schuster.  Kenneth is the Director & Chief Curator at The Brinton Museum in Big Horn, Wyoming. 

Apply Online:

In addition to supporting a charitable event, artists who are juried in enjoy the following benefits:

  • Inclusion in the 49th Art Auction and the exhibition and catalog.  The exhibition is presented in the museum’s main galleries, and runs from January 19 to March 4, 2017, at the Yellowstone Art Museum in Billings, Montana.
  • A special invitation to the opening reception honoring participating artists, Thursday evening, January 19th, 2017.
  • One copy of a full-color catalog.
  • All of the juried artwork will be displayed on the YAM’s website.
  • Widespread regional advertising and promotion of the Auction.
  • One complimentary ticket to the culminating event on March 5, 2016, and one guest ticket at half price.
  • Special acknowledgment for artists making full donations to live or silent auctions on exhibition signage, catalog, and website.

Also apply on the same application to be a Quick Draw artist where art works are created on-site at the event and first in line for bidding during the Live Auction. 

We are looking for U.S. artists, 2D and 3D works, created within the past 3 years (except jewelry). The Artist must be at least 18 years old to enter. A complete set of rules, eligibility requirements is listed on the application form. Fill out an application online and email submission images or any questions to Tanya Ruiz This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

By Tyler Morrison

October is a fascinating culinary month. How exactly did the stars align so that a two-week holiday celebrating the culture of the common mans’ drink shares the same month as the day we dress up as superheroes and pop culture icons and cram bulk discount candy into our bodies. Both Oktoberfest and Halloween give us an interesting opportunity to elevate our food and drink game to heights we dared not reach previously. Can we combine these two merrymaking occasions? It is possible to combine craft beer and dessert? Oh, absolutely, and it is delicious.

Sometimes beer doesn’t get enough credit. Sure, you can find beer pairings on menus now. But beer and dessert are naturally great friends. The potential for matching flavors opens the door to some seriously killer after-dinner pairings. Beer contains all the glorious essences of your favorite desserts. Chocolate, fruit, caramel and coffee flavors abound in our favorite bubbly drinks.  Of course, pairing drinks with any food isn't as simple as just matching flavors—there are other elements at play that can gloriously make (or disastrously break) the match.

An often-repeated rule suggests that the beverages served with a multi-course meal must increase in intensity as the meal progresses. The idea being that a reverse in intensity will leave the beverage tasting weak compared to its precursors. The result often sees desserts served with big, heavy high-proof brews.

While the rule often holds true, especially when pairing wine, the beer loving community is constantly turning this guideline on its head.  Barleywine, imperial stout and double IPA seem to find their way as meal-ending palate-crushers more often than is necessary. They can do the work, but these beers are best reserved for the richest, fattiest, most mouth-painting of desserts. Imperial stout, for example, is classically paired with flourless chocolate cake. This pairing is brilliant: the dense, fatty, richness of the cake is enough to protect the palate from the aggressive bitterness and alcohol of the beer while the flavors blend brilliantly. But put that same imperial stout with a plain piece of very dark chocolate and the harsh boozy flavors of the high-alcohol beer will dominate without a lot of palate-coating fat.

The best beer pairings are the ones where both the food and the beer are enhanced when they come together. These pairings can be a little easier when following some basic rules.

  1. Tart flavors pair well with rich flavors. Tart flavors can overwhelm almost anything and those things that they don’t overwhelm often clash horribly (think orange juice and toothpaste.) There is one very broad exception, super rich foods. Foods like red meat, cheeses, and cheesecake.
  2. Strong flavors pair well with creamy foods. Take an American strong ale like Stone Brewing’s Double Bastard or a Belgian strong ale like Brother Thelonious from North Coast Brewing. These are huge beers both in alcohol and in flavor. Monsters like this must be tamed so we need something creamy (read fatty) to balance them out.
  3. Malty flavors pair well with tart flavors. Beers like bocks and barleywines are rich and thick with malt flavors. They feel heavy in your mouth. Some compare them to liquid bread. So you want to pair these malt forward beers with foods that have a strong enough flavor to compete. You need something big and bright to cut through the heaviness. I like to keep it simple and let these complex beers do the talking. Fresh fruit or stinky cheese should do quite nicely.
  4. Roasty flavors pair well with chocolate. Try a stout with chocolate lava cake. Any stout will work with this pairing, but you really don’t have to go to the extreme of a Russian imperial stout. A more toned-down chocolate, milk or coffee stout will not lose anything in the chocolate pairing and will make for an amazing dessert. Save those Russian imperial stout beers to have on their own (or maybe in a milkshake.)

Now that we’ve established some ground rules for dessert and beer to become fast friends, I challenge you to find your own unusual beer and dessert pairings. In a world now overflowing with sour ales, doppelbocks, pilsners and lagers, we should all be maneuvering intrepidly into the realm of discomfort when it comes to unusual pairings. One thing is for sure, letting oneself indulge in too much beer and sweets has never turned out poorly for anyone.


Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 12, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Anyone who lives in the Western United States is familiar with the massive fires that rage every summer, and a new report says climate change has doubled the amount of acreage burned since 1984.

Researchers from the University of Idaho and Columbia University found that further warming will accelerate the trend in the future. Study co-author John Abatzoglou, a professor of geography at the University of Idaho, said the changing climate has increased what scientists call "fuel aridity."

"Since climate change has basically shifted our fuels to being drier than they would have been in the absence of climate change," he said, "we use that relationship to get an estimate of the additional area that has burned due to man-made climate change."

The study found that natural variability in weather patterns has combined with climate change to compound the problem. Last year, the Montana Department of Natural Resources and Conservation spent nearly $11 million fighting fires.

Abatzoglou said people in the West are going to have to live with the new reality of more forest fires.

 "The takeaway is that large fire seasons are inevitable; climate change will make them even more inevitable," he said. "So, for people who live in the western United States that have to live in areas that burn or in airsheds that are filled with smoke, we need to find a way to cope with it - and one way to cope with it is by coping with climate change."

 The authors also supported efforts to clear out dead wood to reduce the fuel load, but acknowledged that the matter is complex, because fallen trees provide important habitat for wildlife. In addition, successful firefighting techniques have "saved" some forests and allowed dead wood to pile up, thus making them more vulnerable to a mega-fire.

 The access site for the report is at

Big Sky Connection

Eric Tegethoff

October 12, 2016

HELENA, Mont. - Kelly Elder, a sixth-grade social studies teacher at C.R. Anderson Middle School in Helena, has been selected as the 2017 Montana Teacher of the Year, the highest honor for teachers in the Treasure State.

Elder, who has been teaching in Montana for two decades, said he gets to use current events to connect with kids and uses hands-on research projects to teach his students about the world. He said he works hard to connect with every student in the classroom and that teachers can rely on each other to make all the students at school feel welcome.

"I would say your most successful schools in Montana or anywhere in the world are going to be those where every student that comes in the doors connects with someone, some adult within that building and feels a desire to belong, to learn, to grow and to be a better person," he said.

Elder, along with two other finalists, will be honored at the annual MEA-MFT Educators' Conference on Oct. 20 in Helena. The state's Teacher of the Year program is sponsored by the Montana Professional Teaching Foundation.

Elder said he owes a lot to his colleagues because teaching is a collaborative effort. He said the profession is extremely demanding, leading to burnout for some new teachers, but added that those who have been in the profession for a long time can lend support to their new colleagues.

"We as a profession need to do more to make sure we're sharing what we know," he said, "and helping them to connect with students, helping them get on their feet, helping shoulder some of the burden of coaching and lesson-planning and all the extracurricular things that can really bog you down when you're learning to teach."

Elder also leads rides for the Dynamos Mountain Biking Club, a youth mountain biking program for students from around Helena, and is a student council adviser.