State Targets Local Seeds

Many leaders understand that not all Montana agriculture is the same

By Mike Jopek

Earlier this month, I attended the second annual Free the Seeds event held at Flathead Valley Community College. This year’s event ran from eight in the morning to four in the evening. The Arts and Technology building was full of people the entire day.

I attended one of the multiple classes offered at the event and spent more time in the seed swap room. There were a lot of garden seeds being swapped amongst a plethora of locals.   

As I stood there, I could hear people talk about seeds like lettuces, carrots and beets. People used words like “locally adapted to the region.” It became apparent quickly that numerous locals grow food at home, and many enjoy experiences over the long term.

And these locals – some of the faces I recognized, many I did not – were swapping garden-adapted seeds amongst themselves. And it’s not like I’m talking about a few people. Last year organizers checked in 1,600 attendees.

Rod was there, again. He had on his carpenter’s pouch full of pruning tools. Knives and tape, and tools like cutters stuck out of the pockets. Rod was walking about with buckets of scions, waiting to teach a class on how to successfully graft a twig and whip.

The shoots looked to mesmerize the locals surrounding Rod. They held knives and used words like field grafting, bud, cutting, and top-working.   

We recently pruned our fruit trees, wearing snowshoes, and discovered that we’d lost several apple trees, girdled by voles up high on the tree, in an unusually deep snow.

We finished pruning the apples and pears; our overall winter loss wasn’t too bad.

Charlie left me a message earlier saying that he’d lost a bulk of his new trees over the winter. Those apple trees experienced a real Montana winter.  It’s one of many setbacks beginning and veteran farmers or gardeners routinely share.

Winterkill can be harsh. On our small farm, we’ve lost hundreds of feet of raspberries and countless trees that don’t do well locally, in some or any Whitefish winter.

Charlie will undoubtedly replant trees. Planting is in the life of a farmer. Stuff just doesn’t always survive the harsh weather. But after big investments in infrastructure like deer fences and water lines, it’s hard but to persevere.

The annual Free the Seeds events in Kalispell have proved a big success among the hundreds of people participating over the years. It’s hard to imagine we won’t see more of this kind of local and homegrown enthusiasm.

Likewise the third annual Kalispell Mini Maker Fair brought thousands of people over the weekend to the many interactive and hands-on exhibits, sponsored by FVCC and ImagineIF Libraries.

In Helena, our Legislature is poised to pass Senate Bill 155, which takes away the right of local governments to have any say on the cultivation, harvesting, production, processing, registration, labeling, marketing, sale, storage, transportation, distribution, possession, notification of use, use, and planting of agricultural or vegetable seeds.

The last Congress took away many rights from states to label food and enacted another onerous law saying that American beef won’t be labeled as grown in the U.S.   

Sen. Jon Tester was the sole member of the Montana delegation to oppose the repeal of our country of origin beef laws. Hopefully Gov. Steve Bullock will veto SB 155, as it’s likely to pass a deeply partisan Legislature.

Many leaders understand that not all Montana agriculture is the same, yet more agriculture is welcome in our state.

The public participation in locally driven events like Free the Seeds will grow dramatically over the years. People like to grow food. We like to talk about crops, and enjoy our outdoor life in our gardens and farms.