Transitioning While Winter Reigns Supreme

As I write this, there is still snow on the ground in Montana. It has been a record-breaking winter here, and I have welcomed every last bit of it. This has been my first winter back in Montana after living in California for several years, so I was looking forward to experiencing the four seasons again. Ironically enough, it has pretty much been winter since I got here in September.

The past eight months have been a radical transition that has included a lot of learning about my new community, observing the family land I am residing on, and frankly, a lot of pondering and self-reflection during snowed in blizzards.

I grew up in Montana, so in a lot of ways, this move has been a coming home of sorts. I know this state. I know this climate. I know these trees. Yet, I have never lived in the particular community I’m living in, nor on this particular piece of family land, nor have I been responsible for livestock of my own before. Additionally, my permaculture lens has deepened significantly since I lived in Montana last, so that has given me much to think about.

One big thing I am reminded of is how critical it is that we talk about the realities of cold climate food growth and animal care because while it is spring as I write this, there are still many areas in North America that are covered in snow. I am dealing with an extremely short growing season, yet the area I am living in is one of the most heavily farmed in the country. However, it is mostly large scale conventional agriculture, so talking about how to integrate permaculture into these areas is vital. Re-establishing the prairie ecosytems, as we explore in this issue, is just one of the many strategies we can implement in places like these.

It is happening already though, and I like to think I am joining in and being a part of that.

As I mentioned, this is the first time I have had cattle of my own. My parents have been raising cattle much of my life, but being responsible for a small herd has made me so much more acutely aware of their well-being. This calving season has been hard. Most of my calves were born in snow storms. Many of the local ranchers have had calf deaths. Taking on the responsibility of that, to have their lives in my hands, to treat them ethically, to take care of them, while they are out there in such a harsh climate, has been intense. It felt extra jarring because I have not experienced this climate in a long time. Yet, that whole realization is simultaneously juxtaposed by watching the countless species of wildlife roam my land with ease, and has reminded me of just how resilient these creatures are, especially in comparison to us modern humans. For example, the North American Bison that we feature in this issue has zero problems surviving these severe winters.

This leads me to remember how Montana has represented the pioneering wild west for a long time, a place where homesteaders demonstrated radical self- sufficiency despite the harsh climate. And even before that, many indigenous tribes flourished on these lands, without any modern technology. The values of independence, freedom, and self sufficiency are still very prevalent here, but it does not stifle the rich, eclectic community. Especially in the agricultural community where I live, I am seeing a beautiful melting pot of long-time generational farmers, newer, more regeneratively-focused land stewards, and sagacious indigenous communities, all sharing the common desire to provide for their family and those around them. That sense of unity is so powerful to me, and it represents a trend that is happening in a lot of smaller, agriculture-based communities all over North America. This solidarity is incredibly inspiring and will certainly move us forward at a much quicker pace.

Cassie Langstraat, Editor in Chief