What’s Leadership Mean?

Only good leadership can forge paths forward that work in our prospering towns and valley

By Mike Jopek

This thing called leadership seems difficult to articulate, more elusive to enact. Leadership can be inclusive or exclusive, kind or mean.

Leadership doesn’t badger, relentlessly complain, and gossip about all the things wrong in society. Leadership always takes criticism. Won’t get many thanks. Get used to it. It’s OK.

It’s a mess out there. We know. We get it. It’s bad. Yet it’s pretty good locally. A little clearer vision would help. There’s a lot of us living in and visiting this place called home, the Flathead.

Leadership feels more about forging a path forward, through the fog of nonsense. Everyone has opinions. That’s a part of the greatness of America. Yet through all the viewpoints and chatter, we need a path forward. What’s next?

Many views just don’t want society to advance. We’re hanging on, frantically trying to preserve a lifestyle learned from town, handed down by family. Yet advance we must, there’s no going back. Those days are history.

Whitefish has hit new limits on growth. The drinking water plants are full; the wastewater plants are full. Heck, the valley feels full, as townsfolk rebuild the public infrastructure throughout Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish.

Whitefish must upgrade its water treatment plant from a capacity of 4 million gallons per day to 6 million gallons of fresh water daily. That’s a lot, whether viewed as capacity by the minute or by the year.

Townsfolk are already regulated to conserve water, and pay plenty to use the precious life-giving commodity. Everyone knows who’s using all this water. It’s not complicated, just expensive.

This conversation isn’t limited to Whitefish. Kalispell and Columbia Falls each face similar decisions for both drinking water and wastewater. And Flathead County’s budget is so full of valley-wide projects that it says it can’t afford to build a new library in the long term.

Some are moving out of town to get more rural, to calm down or retire. But in the hustle of town, local people make a living.

It’s that living stuff that matters.

For us on the farm, as with many working class people, living and working feel interwoven. We work the land. More and more it feels, people want to know how it’s done as if society has forgotten how to grow.

Earlier this month we harvested our garlic crop for 2019. The abundant rains helped swell the bulbs to look really nice. Garlic cloves were planted in fall, the best season, and overwintered under deep snow. Bulbs were harvested in the dead heat of summer when the days are long, dry and hot.

It’s all hanging in the shade of the barn, curing in hanks, the biggest saved for 2020 seed. The balance for eating and roasting.

It was a big day of yanking and “hanking” garlic. We’ve been saving and growing three varieties of seed for a quarter century. I know, it’s hard to believe.

On this harvest, during midday break, the lunch table was long. I was grateful for table-time stories, flavorful greens, and a hard days help.

This year’s crops are at market where local and out-of-town eaters are hungry to chat about things like garlic. I’ve heard many tales at farmers markets through all the decades of growing.

Locals love our town. And, especially this year, tell me that they can’t believe how crazy busy, how expensive, town feels. Out-of-towners tell me what a great place the valley is, how friendly local people are, how good the amenities are, and how calm town feels compared to where they live.

At times, these feel like divergent experiences in the same time, same place. Only good leadership can forge paths forward that work in our prospering towns and valley.