Where’s the Beef?

In the spring of 2007, the nonprofit Madison County Economic Development Council (MCEDC) developed a program to bring Montana beef back to Montana. The project, named Montana Black, provides financial incentives for local ranchers to retain their healthy calves on their land rather than selling them into commodity feedlots. The cattle stay in Montana and the middleman is cut out, which means Montanans get the benefit of eating local beef that can be linked to a particular southwest Montana ranch. The connection between healthy land and healthy food is visible.

All of the popular talk of eating locally is now easier than ever to execute, but in recent decades, ranching in southwest Montana has become less economically viable. It's became easier and more profitable to sell ranchland to a property developer or to build subdivisions than to make money from cattle ranching. Because of this, we now have problems with noxious weeds, urban sprawl, falling water tables, and a myriad of other issues.

Montana Black gives the market—and an incentive to keep the land healthy—back to the ranchers. In contrast to commodity beef, where cattle change hands an average of 33 times and travel 1,500 miles before landing on a consumer’s plate, Montana Black beef changes hands only three times—from the rancher to the processor to the consumer. It never leaves Montana. The ranchers use no antibiotics, growth hormones, or chemicals of any kind. The cattle are grass- and hay-fed, and they are allowed to graze openly in pastures. This produces healthier, better-tasting beef high in Omega-3 fatty acids and lower in cholesterol—a boon, indeed, to the local economy, to our health, and to our scenery.

Understanding the plight of Montana ranchers is what spurred Sam Korsmoe, executive director of the MCEDC, into action. “We had to find a way to keep the value of our history and our hard work in our community, as opposed to exporting it, and letting someone else gain from what we have here,” said Korsmoe. “With the exception of some entrepreneurial producers, this country and Montana in particular produces commodity beef. It is increasingly becoming difficult to keep the family farm intact.”

For more information about the Montana Black program or other MCEDC projects, visit montanablack.org.

Walk It Off: Curb sprawl and fight climate change
Building compact, mixed-use neighborhoods would be just as effective as much-touted policies like boosting fuel economy, cleaning up power plants, and building green, says a new analysis from the Urban Land Institute (ULI).

The U.S. population is expected to grow 23 percent by 2030; under the sprawl-encouraging status quo, driving is expected to increase 59 percent in the same time period. But it doesn't have to be that way, says the ULI: some two-thirds of homes and other buildings expected to be needed by 2050 have yet to be built, and they don't have to be part of outward-oozing communities. According to the report, walkable neighborhoods can decrease driving by up to 40 percent—which would reduce CO2 emissions, help save our arses, and perhaps reduce our arses as well.

-Jim Barrett