Uncommon Ground: Renters and Homeowners

On October 14, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



Renters and Homeowners

Whitefish city leaders are once more advocating for the creation of an affordable housing task force, hoping to produce results. Over time I’ve learned to trust leaders like Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney.

If Hildner and Sweeney are re-elected next month, many remain optimistic that something good will happen to help assure that those working in town can actually afford to rent or buy ownership in this great Whitefish community.

Currently the fine people who make the decisions on the Whitefish City Council are homeowners. That’s not their fault, many of us bought into the market earlier, back when it actually was affordable.

All homeowners or renters may not be voters; even freeholders own property locally yet claim residency in other jurisdictions, counties or states. Some live and vote elsewhere for tax reasons, some just live elsewhere and have investment property locally.

Katie Williams the youngest Whitefish candidate said at a forum, “I am a hardworking Montanan who leads and helps develop a growing business. I am boots on the ground and I want to live in Whitefish and I am bringing that perspective of a lot of people who are going to be footing the bill 30 years down the road.”

Williams currently rents a home with housemates. That’s a common story in Whitefish where more people rent homes than own homes. Williams wrote, “I am fortunate and I live in my family’s house that was purchased in the ‘90s with two other roommates. This unique situation allows us rent affordably.”

A lot has changed in our nation since renters were not allowed a vote. Yet years back, Flathead County chose not to poll renters on planning issues surrounding Whitefish.

Having served on past planning boards, housing authorities, and housing land trusts I’ve some insight into the politics of housing. And yes, housing is a political decision. When teachers, firefighters, or baristas cannot afford to live in the community they work, that’s one huge and local planning decision.

Last decade the planning board, witnessing the building boom years coupled with a lack of affordable housing, recommended that Whitefish mandate some affordability into major subdivisions regulations. An ideological council rejected that proposed regulation saying that increasing density alone would work. It has not.

Housing land trusts allows communities to hold ground leases under homes, keeping land and improvements affordable into perpetuity. Plenty of resort communities across the nation use similar concepts but Whitefish has yet to find much political will to act.

There were some federal voucher rentals in Whitefish, limited federal tax breaks to investors building affordable apartments, a couple nonprofits building homes or offering small subsidies to fill affordability gaps, and good rent-controlled units for select seniors at the Whitefish Housing Authority.

A new housing task force will ferret out these facts once again. That’s a great step.

Yet real decisions come from the council and their willingness to act on whether to use coveted urban renewal funds to help fix the housing crunch or expand partnerships with the Housing Authority, or require developers to participate through subdivision regulations.

Politics is about trust and relationships. With homeowners like Hildner and Sweeney, and renters like Williams at future decision-making tables, maybe Whitefish can ease the cost of living for those working here, living here, and raising a family. Renters, homeowners and freeholders are all a part of the fabric of Whitefish.

Mail-in ballots are in the hands of some 4,000 Whitefish voters; hopefully most choose to mail-back a ballot and be counted.

It’s time younger voters acknowledge the power of the vote and how a young and articulate renter like Katie Williams can help lead the next generation of Whitefish. Just vote like it’s your town.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously Jopek was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee in the state legislature. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: Hope and Peace

On October 1, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



Hope and Peace

Pope Francis visited the United States offering an optimistic message of hope to millions of people around the world. His message instilled faith that we could do better to care for our common home and its people.

Too often we get mired in the familiar old dogma of bashing others who simply hold a differing opinion than ourselves.

Sen. Jon Tester escorted the Pope into a joint session of Congress. Tester said, “I hope his comments inspire Congress to work together to make America and the world a better place.”

Republicans who are in control of Congress were mulling whether to shut down government again because they do not favor funding health care programs like Planned Parenthood.

These health care clinics provide treatments for nearly millions of mostly younger people annually including hundreds of thousands of cancer screenings and millions of lifesaving tests. Federal law already prohibits funding for abortions.

The GOP likely smartened up recalling the last shutdown over health care, which weirdly attempted to repeal tax breaks and subsidies for people to purchase health insurance.

Locally in Whitefish, some still bash the decision to build a new downtown city hall. As anyone like me who has toured the old decrepit building can attest, the time has come to rebuild a proper town hall.

The old city hall is some 100 years old, and served the community well. But the asbestos-laden building was now simply a piece of junk. Oddly in a community laden with multimillion-dollar residences, a new and efficient city hall will seem small in comparison.

The city hall bashing is a faux controversy ginned up to politically make it look like incumbent city councilors Richard Hildner and Frank Sweeney are not up to the task of leadership. Nothing could be further from the truth.

It’s familiar political nonsense similar to past years when similar voices advocated against rebuilding the streets and sidewalks of downtown Whitefish. After reconstruction downtown Whitefish became a greater place, increased its sense of community, and business is up.

Hildner and Sweeney let Whitefish vote to permanently conserve 3,000 acres of Haskill Basin. Whitefish voters agreed, supporting the ballot measure by an unheard of 84 percent margin. This Hildner and Sweeney solution significantly lowered property taxes and permanently conserved the land producing drinking water for a growing city.

Hildner and Sweeney do a good job at holding the line on property taxes. In fact, Whitefish has been squirreling away urban renewal funds for many-many years in order to replace the dilapidated town hall. A new and energy efficient city hall will be built with no new taxes.

Katie Williams is a new and bright candidate offering fresh hope for Whitefish. Williams is a current manager at the Great Northern Brewing Company and an articulate spokeswoman.

At 28 years old, Williams offers younger voters a reason to return ballots in two weeks for upcoming city elections. Too often the issues facing young families are all but forgotten in a resort community.

Many local workers find the cost of rent in places like Whitefish way too high, and finding an affordable home to purchase is an opportunity for the lucky.

Younger voters are the next generation and it’s time for people like Williams to seek the reins of leadership. Williams offers a kind approach to politics.

The Pope was at the White House offering a message of love, hope and peace as I typed these words. We may not always politically agree with everything the Pope or candidates like Williams say or do, but it’s time to acknowledge that plenty of good happens when we act on the words of people like Tester who advocate working together to make the U.S. and world a better place to live.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously Jopek was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee in the state legislature. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: What’s the Plan, Congress?

On September 2, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



What’s the Plan, Congress?

After working several days outdoors on the farm in smoky air from North American fires, I went downtown to Depot Park for Whitefish Legacy Partner’s Hootenanny.

People filled the park holding umbrellas and raingear as music embraced the depot.

The wind kicked up and it started to briefly rain. What was not apparent just moments ago came into view as the wildfire smoke cleared to reveal Lion Mountain and Big Mountain. The sunshine escaped from behind the smoke.

The next morning was the first frost on the farm. Many plants held that much greener look that comes with cold; some were zapped by the frost. The following night, an even colder yet non-killing frost turned apples and kales sweeter and moved us toward planning next years’ garlic planting location.

The Flathead has been on the extreme drought watch for months, yet weather forecasts indicate that a much bigger than normal ocean warming effect will likely yield a much warmer and dryer winter for Montana.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that July 2015 was the warmest month ever recorded for the planet. For anyone spending any real time outdoors it’s easy to see that something big is up with the chaotic weather.

But the weather will have to get more extreme before Congress endorses any climate plan. That’s tough on people who make a living, recreate or just like the outdoors.

During the winter of 1997-‘98, another bigger ocean warming effect season, 62 inches of snow, sleet and hail fell at the Olney Station, while 36 inches dropped at the Whitefish Station according to NOAA. Our last winter produced 68 inches at the Whitefish Station and the Olney Station got 56 inches.

Last year the snow came earlier and dwindled over the season. The 1997-‘98 snow accumulation was more linear according to NOAA. Who knows what the weather brings, but I’m betting it will be as big as our sky and hoping for plenty of snow in the mountains.

Rainfall briefly scrubbed the smoke from Depot Park and the valley. And it will take rain and snow to help our brave firefighters battle the blazes of our drought-ridden forestlands.

Last week Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack said in a statement that over $150 million per week is spent on fire suppression with increases likely in the coming weeks. There are tens of thousands of brave firefighter working across the nation with the U.S. Military now offering some help.

Ask relatives living across the state, nation, or world and they likely say that their local weather is also behaving oddly.

Politicians create controversy so they won’t or can’t do anything, as the status quo works well for some. That’s been a GOP strategy with national healthcare policy, yet last week Speaker of the House John Boehner hired a top aide to advice him on healthcare.

Boehner, who reportedly toured places like Bozeman, Whitefish and Glacier National Park last month likely got a taste of our smoke-filled air. It’s that kind of first hand experience that may yield more resources to help firefighters combat a historic fire season.

This month Catholic Church leader Pope Francis, who said that the climate is a common good, belonging to all and meant for all, is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress after members return from an August recess of talking to constituents.

Over the weekend smoke refilled the valley as the first frosts of the season passed. We’re now harvesting crops like tomatillos that appreciate the heat but miss rain, which hopefully returns to scrub our air.

Praying for rain and snow seems more productive than talking to Congress about a national climate plan. Hopefully our leaders listen to people like the Pope.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.






Angry August and Hungry Ghosts

The loons were singing this morning as I woke to a cup of fresh coffee from the neighborhood roaster. Outside the skyline is beet red as we ready for another blazing hot day on the farm.

It smells like the last gasp of summer, which we fondly nicknamed angry August. The hornets and yellow jackets are screaming mad over the heat and lack of water. The record heat combined with record drought dried our forest to tinderboxes.

Outside the temperature hit high 90s again, as we gear up for fall weather. The tourists that have been lucky enough to visit and drive the Flathead economy for the better are beginning to head home to let their kids go to school.

Fresh plumes of smoke line the skyline as our brave firefighter battle the blazes that are an all too familiar site of western life.

Hopefully Congress quits bickering after their August recess and better funds firefighting and emergency services. Sen. Jon Tester recently released a statement that said, “Because Congress hasn’t acted, the Forest Service is on its way to being nothing but a fire fighting agency, and folks who make a living on our public lands are paying the price.”

Tester successfully advanced much help for firefighters but noted that wildfire costs have consumed 52 percent of the Forest Service’s budget for 2015, compared to just 16 percent two decades ago.

Tester is a model for how to work together to get stuff done. That’s an honorable mindset also held by Whitefish City Council Frank Sweeney. Sweeney is a tenacious study of information and does extremely well representing the people of Whitefish.

In a fast growing resort city of merely 4,000 registered voters and 500,000 annual tourist visitors spending a night, locals are lucky to have a frugal and community-minded city councilor like Frank Sweeney.

Whitefish recently released its preliminary budget, which calls for a modest 3 percent increase. By state law, local taxing jurisdictions must keep real property tax increases extremely low and Whitefish is again on track.

It’s quite amazing that in a municipality with massive amounts of amenities like miles of world-class recreation trails, Broadway-quality theaters, an indoor ice rink, public parks and soccer fields, an Olympic-style aquatic center, and fantastic libraries and schools, that elected officials could accomplish so much while protecting taxpayers.

The successes are a testament to people like Sweeney whom have spent years developing private-public partnerships to help move good projects forward.

In angry August fashion, some appear hopping mad over a proposed new City Hall at the downtown location. The current location is a terrific spot to rebuild a historic but dilapidated public building. The city has spent decades planning for the new space and squirreling urban renewal funds into coffers to one day replace the decrepit public structure.

The time to rebuild City Hall is now; Whitefish deserves a town hall as efficient and great as our people. One needs to only look around town at all the new magnificent structures, some public and some private, to realize a need.

As the squirrels drop pinecones from fir trees onto metal roofs and frenzied birds scurry for ripe berries, angry August will soon be replaced by the ghost of fall as freezing temperatures whack-back the stinging yellow jackets and biting hornets. Hopefully snow and rain will follow to help firefighters who willingly endanger their lives to protect our way of life in the great Northwest.

There are many good people doing great work in the Flathead. As grandma reminds us, be kind to those who do the work that matters.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: Choose Optimism

On August 5, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



Choose Optimism

About this time in the farming season I typically make the “next year” proclamation. Each season we have some kind of production issue with some crop, which lowers yield from expectations. This year’s record heat and drought reeked havoc on the traditional cold weather crops.

The chokecherries have turned deep purple but the fall season has not yet officially started. Yet simply judging by the size of the hops hanging on the vine, I’m hedging that the colder seasons are not too far away. The firewood is in the shed.

Each spring, farmers hope for the best growing season ever. And in many ways our farm optimism of a better, more prosperous, growing season is a reflection of our view of the world. I still believe that better days are ahead, that any generation of leaders can solve many of the daunting issues facing us as people.

Many of the most optimistic leaders of our time believe in better days. Presidents like Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama inspired millions of new leaders with their positive visions of where we as a nation should go.

I disagree with some of the policies of each of these leaders but am in awe of their ability to remain positive even in the face of worldwide cynicism. Each of these leaders proved adept at moving a nation forward toward a vision, which they themselves manifest.

After spending too many hours outdoors in the blazing sunshine or indoors reading too many negative news feeds, I feel sarcastic. It’s a fun, easy outlet on a hot summer day. But over time snarky rhetoric does little to move us forward as a community. Pessimism by design leads to elevated conflict and political gridlock. It stops things, and that’s the point.

This is not to say that I won’t stand up for things I believe in like world-class education, foods free of weed killers, healthcare for all, property taxes that are affordable to the people who live in those homes, or vibrant downtown communities.

Folks are looking for leadership and know that plenty is askew in how Washington, D.C. portrays us as a people. The constant and bitter infighting does little to solve problems and often appears as a faux fight to raise political capital for reelection. But people are looking for pragmatic problem solvers and tire of the dogma of partisan politics.

A most optimistic leader in the Flathead Valley is Whitefish City Councilor Richard Hildner. Hildner is quick with a smile and always willing to problem solve.

Hildner is frequently seen at the downtown Whitefish Farmers Market holding a loaf of freshly baked bread or some local veggies to bring back home. He likes to talk with people.

Hildner is a retired schoolteacher and full of practical experience on how a government of the people works. Hildner is a marathon runner, hard worker, and a familiar local face. Hildner has much passion and motivation for the job. In politics, that’s as intoxicating as freshly harvested sweet peas sitting on the kitchen table.

Statewide I’ve marveled how politicians can look at the same economic forecast report and have polar opposite reactions and rhetoric. One view is that the end of the world is near; the other acknowledges how positively Montana is actually doing.

There’s plenty of naysayers to tear down society, but the optimist are the ones building new public schools or public buildings, they are the ones conserving public lands or rebuilding downtowns, and they are the ones who move us forward toward better days.

It’s time to embrace more optimism. We can start by acknowledging that we can fix most political problems with a bit of old-fashioned collaboration. It’s hard, I know.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: Get Real About Food

On July 23, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



Get Real About Food

It’s been five years since Congress passed the Food Safety and Modernization Act, which was hailed as the biggest food law in decades. The law languishes in federal agencies awaiting implementation.

Sen. Jon Tester previously amended the FSMA to exempt most small American farmers who sell directly to consumers.

President Barack Obama requested over $100 million in funding from Congress to implement the law by next year, but that’s a tall request given the chilly relationship the two bodies of government enjoy.

Policing a global food industry is no small task and will require more federal workers to inspect the massive agribusiness. The U.S. has just over a thousand inspectors for the nearly 400,000 domestic and foreign facilities that supply food. Compare that to the 6,000 meat facilities that each has an inspector.

Needless to say, modernizing the food business is a massive endeavor.

Rep. Ryan Zinke cosponsored a bill that bans the right of states to label GMO foods and preempts state regulation of bioengineered organisms. The bill quickly passed out of committee in route to a U.S. House floor vote.

This month Obama issued an executive order to modernize how bioengineered foods are approved. The White House ordered that three federal agencies work together to update their internal systems of regulations and streamline the effort to assure the safety biotech foods.

Obama’s order will attempt to work on issues like cloned milk and meat products, gene editing, yet put most procedural focus on food crops that have been engineered to tolerate weed killers.

Earlier this year, Michelle Obama announced new food labels in a fight against obesity. The hope is to revamp the nutrition labels featured on the more than 700,000 food products available throughout the nation.

The Center of Disease Control earlier said that obesity in the 2- to 5-year-old age group had fallen over 40 percent. Given that food-related diseases like heart disease, diabetes and obesity cost the county over $150 billion annually, there is much more work ahead to promote healthier eating.

The recent bird flu that killed a historic 50 million poultry in a matter of months and drove egg prices through the henhouse roof demonstrated that it’s time the feds act aggressively to protect consumers and the industry.

There is much speculation about how the bird flu rapidly spread from state to state but not many mentioned how most poultry are packed into small confined cages during egg production. No amount of antibiotic-laced feed will cure the overcrowding situation, which also plagues the swine industry.

The last Farm Bill refused to stipulate that California’s state law mandating roomier hen cages was illegal, yet lawsuits from Midwestern states were quick to materialize.

The Farm Bill is headed for the next update in the coming years. Perhaps Congress will smarten-up and stop subsidizing crops that contribute to sickness like tobacco, and put more focus onto healthy eating crops produced by American farmers.

If Congress wants to transform the Farm Bill into a food bill, it must focus on crops, which every reasonable nutritionist says a person should eat more of: vegetables and fruits.

Farmers like myself are still awaiting the same big-weather insurance protection offered to farmers who grow crops like sugar or cotton. Chaotic weather is a real problem that affects the nation’s food supply. With record heat and drought, simply sprouting seeds in hot ground can be problematic.

The next Farm Bill should put some research into organic seed and meat development to cope with the hotter planet, invest in technology like drip irrigation and planters’ paper, and continue the advancements that puts public infrastructure into communities to help move local foods from farm to consumer.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: Move On

On July 9, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek



Move On

The National Weather Service issued an extreme heat advisory last week stating, “be prepared for some of the hottest weather ever recorded in the month of June.” It reached an intense 102 degrees on the farm.

We’ve reorganized some chores to be much earlier and later in the day to avoid the blazing sunshine, which stressed select plants.

Six months into the New Year, the growing season has been anything but predictable. That’s also true for politics, be it in Helena or Washington, D.C.

Gov. Steve Bullock established an impressive working relationship with the Republican-controlled Legislature. Bullock worked with the staunchly conservative Legislature to pass policies, which many thought would not happen anytime soon.

Bullock signed into law an expansion of Medicaid that allows lower wage earners to help purchase single-payer healthcare while using federal money to pay the vast majority of the bills.

Bullock convinced the Legislature to pass the last water compact, helping finalize statewide adjudication of water rights. Judging by the record drought that is crippling agriculture in places like California, a water war is brewing and states that adjudicated water rights will fare much better.

Bullock also signed into law a bill to require more transparency for election spending, ending dark money for state elections. The law is a direct reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court rulings that said some could spend unlimited amounts of undisclosed money to sway voters.

Those were impressive policy advancements that people across Montana call progress. Couple those achievements with Bullock’s fiscal frugality and record job creation makes him a consequential leader.

In a surprise to many, the Supreme Court moved some progress of its own.

Last week the court said that people could keep the tax breaks that the Affordable Care Act put in play over five years ago, which make health insurance accessible to thousands of people across our county and state.

President Barack Obama said after the ruling, “This week, after more than 50 votes in Congress to repeal or weaken this law; after a Presidential election base in part on preserving or repealing this law; after multiple challenges to this law before the Supreme Court, we can now say this for certain: the Affordable Care Act still stands, it is working, and is here to stay.”

The next day after the court ruled on health care it rendered one of its most monumental decisions in decades. The court said that same-sex marriage is Constitutionally legal in our 50 United States.

Staunch Republicans won’t have much good to say about this kind of news. In fact it’s hard to find a candidate in the GOP presidential primary that will have anything positive to say about recent issues like marriage and health care. Many want issues like health care and marriage to remain divisive pawns, for politics sake.

Given this kind of affirmative movement it’s easy to see why American voters elected leaders to move the state and nation forward. Voters want trustworthy people like Bullock or Obama at the helm. They serve to backstop plenty of bad bills, but are also willing to collaborate and move us forward.

On many issues, some are stuck living in the past. It’s time to move on and conquer the biggest ecological treat to our way of life, a rapidly changing climate.

Not many political victories are easy to achieve. Many take decades of activism by real people across America. If people want change, continued advocacy is a must.

Many of the social justice issues facing our country are far from fixed. From racism to prisons to brutality on the streets, there is plenty of work ahead. Celebrate now but engage again; we cannot rest upon our laurels if the goal is justice and liberty for all Americans.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



Uncommon Ground: Trade Wars

On June 25, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

Trade Wars

In a disappointment for eaters across America, the House passed a bill repealing a previous U.S. law mandating that meat imported from other countries contain a label delineating the origin.

Congressman Ryan Zinke voted to repeal country of origin labeling or COOL for imported meat products like cuts of beef, ground pork or beef, and poultry.

Meat labels indicate to consumers in which country the animal was born, raised and slaughtered. With meat processed and imported from all over the world, consumers may soon have no right to know this morsel of food information.

House Speaker John Boehner said that unless Congress repeals our COOL laws, American exporters might be faced with billions in retaliatory tariffs.

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said that Canada and Mexico have yet to prove any monetary losses from U.S. meat labeling laws. That’s a forthcoming international dispute process. Supporters of meat labeling contend that over 60 countries have their own versions of COOL.

Referring to the stalled Trans-Pacific Partnership international trade agreement being fast-tracked through Congress, President Barak Obama earlier said that no trade agreement is going to force us to change our laws.

Zinke voted to give Obama fast-track authorization to negotiate the TPP. Zinke supported a companion customs bill, which prohibits things like climate change initiatives in trade but also adds six additional people to oversee negotiations. On the same day, Zinke opposed the bill to provide aid to any displaced U.S. workers.

We’ll have to see what the U.S. Senate says about repealing U.S. meat labeling laws, but it previously gave fast-track authority to Obama without the House amendments.

Policymakers should focus just as much attention assuring that domestic meats and vegetables find hungry stateside consumers, as they do on the ever-expanding import and export of food.

The last Farm Bill, with its many small grower policy advancements, largely subsidizes those who export food. Policy makers appear eager to ship away to other nations much of the best that America grows and import plenty of meats and vegetables for domestic consumption.

Recently on our farm, we were fortunate to get rain when pea-sized hail pellets hit a mile down the road. I hope our luck holds; it hasn’t every growing season. The great outdoors has been unconventionally turbulent with record-breaking heat.

Temperatures hit 95 degrees and some vegetables simply bolted-to-seed. Every member of Congress working a shift in the field, versus their air-conditioned offices, would say 95 is hot for early June.

Alan Merrill with the Montana Farmers Union said that in wheat country, “you never used to start seeding in April.” Last week the farmers’ organization and the Montana Brewers Association scheduled a forum on changing climate, featuring Sen. Jon Tester and Montana Department of Agriculture director Ron de Yong.

Instead of dealing with big weather issues, Congress routinely chooses the expensive path of paying for select weather disasters like forest fires, crop killing droughts, fierce hailstorms, animal deaths, or rampant flooding.

Congress could help domestic farmers and American consumers by keeping COOL. Trade wars will continue, as countries like Canada move forward with bioengineered products like GMO apples or GMO salmon. There should be no mystery to where people’s food is grown.

Much of what Montana produces is exported with little added value beyond the modest farmer return. It makes little sense to import chicken parts from China if the idea was to help domestic farmers.

If the recent past is any indication of the future, the weather will become more turbulent and federal farm disaster aid will see escalating budgetary increases.

Only Congress is smart enough to subsidize crops like tobacco while subsidizing health insurance coverage. Congress should put more focus on promoting healthy domestic food to hungry Americans.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.



Save Seed for Genetic Diversity

With snow melted off the south face of Big Mountain, many locals have planted their home gardens. It’s been a shockingly hot and dry spring with May temperatures in the 80s. Gratefully June brings rain.

On the farm, we’ve been field-testing new spinach. Abundant Bloomsdale is a cross between a cold hearty open-pollinated spinach variety and other disease-resistant ones.

The Organic Seed Alliance worked with numerous farms to develop the open-pollinated seed and judging by our production results, the future heirloom spinach is a huge hit with consumers.

 The variety was developed over the decade and publicly available this year. Growers are encouraged to save seeds and replant offspring to adapt the spinach to local weather. Bulk seed will become available to small growers next year.

The dark green leaves are crunchy and sweet, while the stems are succulent. The heavily savoyed leaves sit on top of sturdy stems. This makes for great looking bunches at the marketplace.

Judging by consumer reaction to these spinach test-plots and that neither the rows in the hoophouse nor the open field were fast to bolt-to-seed in the blazing hot sun, we’ll give this seed another planting for fall or next spring.

In the kitchen I chopped the spinach bunches, stem and all, into eatable pieces and wilted it by pouring a heated sauce of olive oil and apple cider vinegar on top. It tasted great.

During last year’s Farm Bill debate, Sen. Jon Tester introduced an amendment to clarify a proposal from the previous Farm Bill. Tester has long promoted more public research into conventional breeding techniques at places like land grant universities to only better Montana meats and seeds.

Tester’s proposal called for public research on public cultivar development through conventional breeding.

Recently on the documentary TV series VICE, Tester talked about bioengineered plant seeds and how farmers since the beginning of time have always had control of their seed. Tester said patented transgenic seeds offer a different way of doing business for agriculture.

When it comes to most bioengineered crops, farmers cannot save seed. The patented offspring is the intellectual property of the corporation that created the seeds back at the lab.

Even much agricultural research at public universities across the nation is somehow not part of the public domain.

Many conventional farmers traditionally saved their seed and replanted for a new season. On our farm, we have been saving seed garlic for more than two decades. We grow three varieties that have adapted well to the unpredictable growing conditions near the 49th parallel.

Many more families across the Flathead are getting their hands back into the dirt by growing some of their own food. It’s a great and fast-growing local food movement.

Local gardeners looking for seeds for their home beds may want to check out the Good Seed Company in Whitefish. They’ve been growing and sourcing heirloom and organic seeds since the 1980s.

The Good Seed Company promotes untreated, cold hardy, non-GMO and open-pollinated seeds. Robin Kelson wrote on her website, “I am dedicated to revitalizing and rebalancing our soils because I know that rebuilding our soils ability to generate nutrients is essential to putting nutrients back into our food.”

This is our 25th year of growing food in Whitefish and each season I learn more about the importance of seed, soil, wind and water.

Part of our Farm Bill created seven regional climate hubs across the nation to help farmers, who are often on the front lines of climate change, navigate new chaotic weather.

There are far too many big-weather challenges ahead for Montana growers to ignore. Farmers across the nation need more access to public seed research and classical breed development.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

Copyright 2014 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.




Uncommon Ground: Not COOL

On May 28, 2015, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek


The World Trade Organization recently issued its ruling that said labels stating the country of origin of meat products sold in the U.S. are an unfair trade barrier to places like Canada and Mexico. The WTO, led by a man from Brazil, said that tariffs may now be imposed by other countries onto some American exported goods unless changes occur.

In 2005, former Gov. Brian Schweitzer requested a bill in the Montana Legislature mandating that meat sold in the state but produced in another country must be labeled to indicate the country of origin. The country of origin labeling (COOL) bill overwhelmingly passed the Legislature and was carried by former Rep. Bob Bergren and then state Sen. Jon Tester.

In Congress, Tester supported the federal approach to country of origin labeling of meat, seafood, produce and fruit. COOL became the law as part of the 2008 Farm Bill.

For now, the WTO ruling only applies to red meat. Canada led objections at the WTO that included countries like China, New Zealand, Australia, Brazil and Guatemala. Apparently many feel it’s unfair for American consumers to know where meat is produced.

WTO cited a 1994 General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade update. The updated GATT agreement was under former President Bill Clinton. The agreement with 122 other nations created the WTO.

It’s ironic that a 20-year-old international trade agreement was used to disallow American consumers’ the right to know where food is produced. In a joint statement Canada and Mexico said, “We call on the United States to repeal COOL legislation and comply with its international obligations.”

House Agricultural Committee Chairman Mike Conaway from Texas said that he favors repeal of COOL and moved to pass a bill to fix the ensuing trade war by removing Americans’ right to know where meat is raised.

Time will tell how Congress bows to international trade winds, but food labels have become a thorny political issue. Intrinsically consumers have just as much right to know where their food is grown, as what’s in their food.

Congress is deciding whether to grant President Barack Obama the right to fast track negotiations with Asian countries on a Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. TPP is so far a proposed 12-country regulatory treaty with places like Australia, Canada, Mexico, Japan and Taiwan.

Critics to TPP, like former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich in the Clinton Administration, have been busy skewering the secret trade negotiations. Reich claims that TPP gives power for multinational corporations to question any U.S. law that they find objectionable before another secret tribunal.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said that Congress would pass the TPP fast-track authorization before Memorial Day. TPP is the latest flashpoint for food. Many critics say that TPP will promote bioengineered foods in countries that ban it or require the labeling of GMO ingredients.

If future international trade settlements before a tribunal on bioengineered food prohibits labels for countries that mandate transparency, like America’s country of origin meat law, many countries would rightly protest.

TPP may trade more Montana wheat or beef to far away places. It may push new growth regulators, already approved on some Canadian wheat but not in the U.S., onto places like Montana. Who knows?

Small farmers who spend decades working the soil often must compete with multinational-agribusiness for a share of the food market. Much produce like tomatoes and chard is grown in far away places like Mexico where the minimum wage is less than $5 per day and environmental laws are lax.

Hopefully Obama learned from past trade agreements and makes time to talk with farmers like Tester. People have a right to know where their food is produced and what’s in it. That seems fair.


-Mike Jopek is a full time farmer working the land in Whitefish. Previously he was chairman on the Montana House Agricultural committee. He welcomes feedback at mike@mikejopek.com.

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