Uncommon Ground: Local Progress

On September 28, 2016, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Local Progress

–AERO’ 2016 Expo and Annual Meeting is held at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell from October 7 to 9.  See the statewide organizations website at www.aeromt.org for details.

Yesterday was the last farmers market of the 2016 growing season for Whitefish. It’s been one heck of a season in the Flathead. Some produce like pears and cucumbers grew great, other veggies like late-season tomatoes succumbed to the repetitive nights of temperatures in the twenties.

On Friday October 7, our farm will host one of the several tours the Alternative Energy Resources Organization put together as part of their statewide annual meeting. We’ll talk about some of the stuff we’ve learned over the decades of farming the Flathead.

On this AERO farm tour, we’ll try to mostly talk about pragmatic things that may help inform the next generation of beginning farmers on more permanent infrastructure needs like game fencing, drip irrigation, row covers, hoop houses, barns, perennial plants, and the importance of community involvement.

As some locals know, besides farming, I’ve chaired multiple legislative committees that deal with statewide farm policy. State and national policies, everything from agricultural property tax valuations to federal crop insurance eligibility, have big impacts on beginning farmers and small-scale food production.

My interest in farm policy was upheld at last month’s market when the local Farm Services Agency agent from the United States Department of Agriculture came and chatted me up about the agency’s new crop insurance programs that can help protect small fruit and vegetable growers from devastating losses accompanying the chaotic weather patterns that are now more a part of localized food production.

As any farmer knows, hail and freeze can quickly end the farm season. Sen. Jon Tester as part of the 2014 Farm Bill guided some of the new reforms to federal crop insurance toward more small Montana farms.

Tester is like the only farmer left in Congress. Anyone who cares about food access and affordability, or what’s in our food, where on the planet it was grown, or what our kids eat while at public schools will quickly grow to appreciate having an organic farmer’s hand on the national food policy of Congress.

From both that food policy perspective as well as from the day-to-day practicality of operating a small local farm for the past 25 years these kinds of crop eligibility reforms represent big steps forward toward a food system that work better for Montana’s small producers.

Much of the next Farm Bill should continue these kinds of small farm advancements but also acknowledge some of those real obstacles facing today’s beginning farmers. There are multiple infrastructural needs beyond the more obvious access to cropland. There’s plenty of need for technology advancements to farm stuff like planter’s paper, drip irrigation and grow tunnels.

AERO is a membership-driven organization that for the past 40 years has been linking people across Montana with agriculture and energy solutions.

This weekend the organization will feature keynote speaker Mary Berry of the Berry Center. The center says that their mission is “putting Wendell Berry’s writings to work by advocating for farmers, land conserving communities, and healthy regional economies.”

AERO’ 2016 Expo and Annual Meeting is held at the Red Lion Hotel in Kalispell from October 7 to 9. See the statewide organizations website at www.aeromt.org for details. One can attend a tour, listen to Berry, or attend the entire weekend.

This year’s theme, “What We Need is Here,” comes from a poem by farmer and philanthropist Wendell Berry, Mary Berry’s father. AERO’s annual meetings traditionally feature multiple panels, workshops, and demonstrations.

Some of this weekend’s other farm tours include the brewing and agricultural sciences projects at Flathead Valley Community College, Lower Valley Farms and New Agrarian Tools.

Other AERO speakers include Steve Thompson of Climate Smart Glacier Country, Jim Oldham of Equity Trust, and Fred Kirschenmann of Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

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-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 2016 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Slow Down

On August 3, 2016, in Politics, Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

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Slow Down

The story began minutes ago; the following is but the middle of one long ongoing tale. The vehicle first appeared on the rear view mirror of his Porsche 922 as Jim cruised his way through the desert of Death Valley.

The vehicle became larger, and then the Jaguar XK-E sailed past Jim and his 922. It became the tale of efficiency, one that I’d hear many times through out the years of friendship. I preferred the VW tales.

Distorted by time, today’s story intermingled traditional space and time. Dreams wove into the conversation. Maybe it’s a good storyteller’s gift. His life has been one long story.

Jim wanted to talk about a new economy for local survival. He talked about the North Dakota state Legislature and how in 1919, it enacted a state-run bank.

The Bank of North Dakota helped teachers in the Great Depression by paying them fully for their warrants rather than the 85 percent other banks offered. The state bank insured the first federal student loan in America. Today it continues to serve students.

Then, Jim said his dreams were a parable of good versus evil. It was a standoff; there were no winners or losers. It was a reoccurring dream; one where two girls help him rid his yard of the lime-green cancer sticks the man was chucking over from the field. A new intermediary had entered the vivid dreams, it seemed like good news.

We drifted, as Jim first worked as a neurosurgeon in the Flathead, another doctor’s wife asked of him, “Does he hunt, does he have a rifle, gotta have a rifle?”

Jim said he promptly went out a bought himself “a pretty expensive Finnish rifle.” It wasn’t Jim’s first rifle, which he had purchased at a surplus military equipment place back during medical school. He put a new barrel on that Springfield and it proved “long and heavy.”

Jim mentioned the “miracle shot” where he harvested the big elk, over the valley, with his new Sako rifle. I listened. It sounded as unbelievable as the first time I heard it. I smiled.

Soon I prompted Jim on the economy. It’s what he wanted to talk about. We had previously agreed to talk about something for this column. Jim said, Robert Reich, I like him. Then silence.

To Jim it seemed more about retaining local wealth, not letting so much get “skimmed off.” He listed off processed food and corporate agricultural subsidies as symptoms of our old economy.

Wandering again, Jim said it’s taken him 10 days to catch up with one. It’s very weird, he said, to be displaced by time. Routinely Jim checks his flip phone for the correct time and date. It seems important, like it’s all real time or all dreamtime, the Porsche, the Sako, the lime-green cancer sticks.

Why is Montana one of the poorest states in the union? Where’s the money going now? I offered no answers to either of Jim’s questions. I sat in silence, listening.

It was more about keeping the money local, investing in community banks and credit unions. To him, the big banks were not the way.

Jim saw the Grand Coulee Dam when it was half-built and he shares a core value with the Bank of North Dakota, which says, “Do the right thing.”

The state of North Dakota and its agencies were required by their Legislature to bank with their state-run bank, unlike any other state in America. In 2011, the state bank returned more than $70 million to their treasury.

By law, Montana invests billion of dollars to gain the best possible returns for teacher and civil servant’s retirements, and our coal trust fund. Historically those returns, and losses, have proven both great and small.

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-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 2016 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Spring Returns

On March 31, 2016, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Spring Returns

I awoke this morning to the sound of rain splattering the metal roof.   Given how awfully dry last season was, it’s a great start to springtime.

Out at the farm, the garlic has sprouted from underneath its matting of mulch and the sorrel emerged lime green from the cold earth.   Rhubarb stalks pushed up their coat of leaves, presenting pinkish red stalks to honor the return of spring.

Last month we pruned the apple and pear trees, this week we’re transplanting raspberries and mulching currants.   The fullness of farm work has begun.

I attended the Free the Seeds event at Flathead Valley Community College.   Remarkably, some 1,600 people turned out to listen to farmers, gardeners, and other locals talk about things like seed, grafting and soil.

Organizers used a hand-clicker to count attendees swarming through the doors.   Aside from the trading of seeds, magazines, and information a favorite booth was presented by Nikki Reed, a teacher at Whitefish High School.

Reed presented conceptual drawings of the new greenhouse to be built on public school grounds.   The idea sprouted from students and teachers, and over years adapted into a much bigger vision of education and sustainability.

Reed and colleague Eric Sawtelle have done a terrific job building enthusiasm with students and community members. It’ll be good to see the school farm project grow over the seasons.

The Free the Seeds event was full of gardeners and farmers.   The cross section of youth to elderly was amazing.   It’s hard to fathom that 1,600 people can come together for a three-hour farm and food event on a sunny Saturday morning.

I shouldn’t act surprised; thousands of people weekly swarm the multiple farmers’ markets in the Flathead Valley. People are hungry for fresh local foods and equally eager to get their own hands into their own garden soil.

Three years ago when young mom’s organized a March Against Monsanto event in Kalispell, some 500 people turned out to listen to talk about food and agrochemicals.

Compare the number of local people attending these kinds of events to my political campaign rallies eight years ago, when 400 hungry voters turned out to eat a 250-pound freshly roasted pig.

The food movement is on. Politicians that ignore the common bond of sustenance will be shocked when consumers fight for food rights.

Montana eaters and farmers have a friend in Sen. Jon Tester.   He’s leading on national food policy like the Farm Bill, and routinely stands up for consumers’ right-to-know what’s in our food and where on this planet the beef we eat was raised.

I’m bewildered that politicians at all levels of governance can ignore the visible food movement throughout the nation. Food policy affects all levels of governance from local councilors to state legislators to congresspersons.

The Food Policy Action put forward a newer scorecard to hold Congress accountable for votes that keep food safe, healthy and affordable.  In Montana, it’s no surprise Tester scored a 100%.   Most voters would agree that over his time of service, Tester has been squarely on the side of eater, farmers, and home gardeners.

Sen. Steve Daines garnered a 40%, while Rep. Ryan Zinke got a 20% on the national scorecard from the food policy organization.

I’ve spent 25 years growing local food, multiple seasons picking apples, and chaired numerous statewide legislative committees on agricultural. It’s time that the politics of food take center stage, nationally and locally.

When politicians knock doors this year harvesting votes, they should look to people’s yards to see gardens, fruit trees, raised beds, potted vegetables and flowers spouting up all over town. Local farmers and gardeners aren’t necessarily big political donors like big-Food, but adults cook kid’s meals and eaters surely vote.

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-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 2016 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground: Free Seeds

On March 16, 2016, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

Free Seeds

Last year Sen. Jon Tester helped keep an amendment out of Congress’ budget process that bans the rights of states to label genetically modified foods. Tester opposes the effort in Washington to preempt state labeling rights.

Rep. Ryan Zinke cosponsored the House-passed bill to preempt state GMO labeling laws. Zinke was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the unbalanced budget bill that repealed our nation’s country-of-origin meat labeling laws.

Congress and our president agreed that Americans no longer have a right to know where on this planet the meat we eat is raised. Meat at the grocer may be from Australia, Mexico, Canada, Brazil or Montana, yet eaters’ right to know was revoked.

Tester co-introduced legislation that requires that food genetically modified in the lab be labeled. “Every American has a right to know if the food they eat was created in a lab,” Tester said. “If GMO producers – and their allies – are as proud of their products as they claim they are, they should want to label it.”

Zinke and the Republican-controlled Congress are steamrolling down the wrong road by banning state labeling laws. Apparently Congress is unaware that Montana enjoys many state labeling laws like those for natural beef and huckleberries.

This Saturday, March 19, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Flathead Valley Community College’s Arts and Technology Building is the annual seed and starts fair.

The Free the Seeds event has an impressive lineup of workshops and booths for anyone wanting to know more about how to produce or process food at home.

Organized by volunteers, the event is free and open to the public. A schedule is online at www.freetheseedsmt.com.

There’s a seed swap where gardeners can trade locally adapted seeds with other growers.

A workshop on the basics of backyard beekeeping is put on by Tamarack Apiaries; another shares the principles of basic cheesemaking by Flathead Lake Cheese.

Mountain Heart Permaculture hosts an overview on permaculture chickens and how to keep poultry happy on a smallholding of land.

Rod McIver will provide hands-on bench-grafting demonstrations of both scions and whips for home growers wanting to add new varieties of fruits onto exiting trees. Barton Morse covers the pruning of fruit trees like apples, pears, cherries and plums.

Food Corps is holding a workshop on growing micro-greens for kids. Montana Bees and Berries has a workshop on killer compost, effects of herbicide persistence and confidently amending the soil.

Terrapin Farms hosts a seed saving workshop on breeding for earliness, vigor and cold-tolerance. Two Bear Farms is hosting a workshop of understanding soil mineralization and why the key to healthy food is soil.

Lower Valley Farm presents on rotational grazing and holistic livestock management. The Good Seed Company has an interactive workshop for home gardeners on seed saving basics.

Natural Grocers hosts a workshop on fermented foods like yogurt, kimchi and sauerkraut. Two Frog Home covers the basics of how to safely can fruits and vegetables for long-term pantry storage.

The Center for Restorative Youth Justice has kids activities on the changing of the seasons and earths rotational patterns. Scott Larimore is teaching a class on how forests cycle nutrients and increase fertility.

Free the Seeds features numerous booths and workshops, from professional farmers to businesses to governmental agencies. There will be roundtable discussions on building seed libraries and moving farming forward in the Flathead.

Most of Congress seems downright hostile toward the rights of consumers to know what’s in our food or where it was grown.

Anyone looking for more practical and less ideological talks about farming and food must spend some time with their hands in the soil. Saturday’s Free the Seeds event shares much real growing and food experience.

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-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 2016 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

Uncommon Ground High Rent

On January 9, 2016, in Uncommon Ground, by Mike Jopek

 

High Rent

There’s been slow, steady work done to address the shortage of affordable housing in the Flathead. Lack of workforce housing is a persistent topic plaguing resort communities across the West, where populations grew fast in the scenic and mostly unspoiled areas of the nation.

Last year Bob Horne of Applied Communications presented some American Community Survey data from 2009 to 2013, which found that the average rental cost in the Whitefish market was $812 a month including utilities. Even at $10,000 a year, rentals in the Whitefish community are a very tight market.

Lori Collins, director of the Whitefish Housing Authority said, “Some service workers can’t even afford a house for $440 a month, and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything like that available.”

There are nearly 11,000 rentals in Flathead County with an average 2.3 people per household. Homeownership may be higher in the Flathead than the balance of the state, but it’s lower in the tri-cities. In Kalispell, 45 percent of the people rent, in Whitefish nearly half rent, yet in Columbia Falls nearly two-thirds own homes.

Next year, Flathead Valley Community College expects to have 100 beds available on campus for student housing. Ninety percent of the students at FVCC are locally enrolled from Lincoln and Flathead counties.

While the 100 students that would live in the new suite-style housing is relatively small compared to the over 1,300 full-time students enrolled, it’s still a huge step forward for the college.

FVCC Board of Trustees Chairperson Shannon Lund said, “This is a very exciting time for our college and our students.”

Hopefully, the college will set rent rates at the new $10 million campus facility to be affordable to students.

Federal housing guidelines indicate that Flathead’s Fair Market Rents for a two-bedroom unit is $755 per month in 2016. That’s up 3 percent annually over the decade, from $579 per month in 2006. Either amount is likely too great for most full-time FVCC students.

Reportedly, none of the funds to construct the student housing will come from local taxpayers. FVCC is currently funded with roughly half coming through the state, a quarter from local property taxpayers and a quarter from students.

FVCC is a great economic asset to the valley and it’s lucky to have so many tremendous instructors. It’s good to see the college make its first big move toward more students living on campus.

Whitefish, where renters have some of the highest housing costs in the county, has plenty of work ahead to assure that the people who serve the community can actually also afford to live in the community.

2016 marks a fresh start. Newly elected council members take their oaths of office this month, after winning elections last November. All of Whitefish’s winning candidates spoke passionately on the need of addressing housing affordability.

Affordable housing in a community doesn’t mean different things to different people. Affordable housing is a defined term, proportionate to the income of the area. Both wages and local land use regulations address housing affordability.

FVCC decided it was time to act on student rentals. Hopefully those elected to serve the tri-cities will also act in 2016, as the resort communities of the Flathead need plenty of smaller houses that are actually affordable relative to real wages.

It’s no secret that the cost of land is the biggest barrier to homeownership. But when nearly half the people rent in places likes Whitefish or Kalispell, it’s likewise time to put some affordability and availability focus toward renters.

Luckily for Flathead’s residents, local policymakers mostly progress forward absent much of the partisanship that has mired the statewide and national politics of governing. 2016 offers a renewed time to act.

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-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 2016 www.mikejopek.com All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

 

 

 

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.

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-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.

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-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.

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-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.

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-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.

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-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.