Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Clark Fork Organics Internship: Fostering Seeds to Food
By Melinda Horne

Today fellow Wilderness and Civ student Sarah Capdeville and I arrived at the Clark Fork Organics headquarters: the home of Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick, a border collie named Jupe, an indistinct number of cats, quite a few chickens, and Kim and Josh’s two daughters.

Past Reserve street in rural Missoula, their estate consists of a smattering of buildings. There’s their home, of course, a small yellow one-room “Shack” as a sign denotes above the doorway, a barn, a shed with a covered outdoor work area, two garages (one they rent out), a greenhouse attached to the main home, two larger greenhouses, two miniature 11'x15' houses behind the barn, and a series of chicken coops. There is also a field out back, whose churned soil looked soft and warm under today’s thoughtful blue sky.

I have been an intern here for two months now, along with Sarah Capdeville and Rory Davenport of Wilderness and Civilization. But rarely are we alone. Often, in addition to our crew, Kim, and occasionally Josh, former interns help out around the farm. Emily, a Resource Conservation student whose last name slips my mind, is often there when Sarah and I arrive every Wednesday and Friday. Today her friend also by the name Emily tagged along. A few weeks ago, a recent grad named Julia came in and helped us plant as she interviewed Kim about which plants she should grow on the farm in Oregon she would be starting soon. It would seem that once some people dip their hand into fresh, damp soil that they want to come back for more.

I am rapidly turning into one of these junkies: the type that knows the difference between dirt and soil, the type that looks forward to the time in the wake when you can lose yourself in the zen of planting, transplanting. It’s not all easy work, though. For the first week of the internship we cleared out the greenhouses: dismantling dried and dead tomato plants that were still garnished with pruney rancid tomatoes, prying dried oregano and basil roots out of the greenhouse floor, and leveling maddeningly crooked and dilapidated tables on which we would put plant trays.

Since then we have planted seeds. Now we are transplanting the buds of those seeds in slightly larger trays. It’s not easy to do this; standing for hours on end is never easy. And repetitive though it may be, it is never tedious, never boring. And it never ceases to amaze me just how much a tiny dried little seed can grow over the course of one week, two weeks. All they need is water, sunlight, and a little room to grow. Wish that our lives were so simple.

Today Kim told me to grab one of the trays to transplant. I stood in the center of the greenhouse, looking all around me at the various sprouts, shoots, buds, and leaves, unable to identify the marigolds by sight. I have little aptitude or knowledge of plants, and how to make them grow. Especially when compared to Kim, who has been at this gig for so long that the right number of seeds to plant, or even the crops to choose for her farm seems second nature.

It amazes me that this is food production. Soon, someone will eat the months of work that Kim, Josh, and company have put into their plants. I find myself wondering if they will appreciate it, if they will thinking about all the transplanting it took for their vegetable to get to the size it is. Or will they down the food at the pace of a sprint, thoughtlessly, like so many, like myself at times.

It’s easy to forget that food doesn’t magically appear at a grocery store. That is hasn’t been conjured out of nothingness to appear at that location at that exact time for the sole sake of my own convenience. It reminds me of processing turkeys: the process of this food production is what sets it apart from regular Albertson’s food. The fact that it’s been grown in our city by our hands makes it special in a way I never really saw before these experiences.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Missoula Institute for Sustainable Transportation 
Danny Dresher
            For my internship this semester, I have been creating a hand drawn watercolor map of bike touring routes in the Missoula area. The four or five routes to be included all begin and end in Missoula. Prints of the final map will be available to Missoulians as well as traveling cyclists for free in bike shops around town as well as online. Bob Giordano of Freecycles and the Missoula Institute For Sustainable Transportation has been providing support through route information, distribution and production ideas, as well as contacts for more information.
            You may be thinking, sounds interesting, but would I really want to use an inaccurate hand drawn map when I have Google maps with street view and an internet connection with seemingly endless resources for every kind of travel? It is true that at no other time in history have we been better able to conceptualize and represent the surface of our planet. On YouTube, if you type in “summit video,” you can literally see the view from the top of the world. In the last few weeks Google released the Street View Trekker tour of the Grand Canyon. You can now “hike” the Bright Angel Trail from your desk. If the purpose of maps is to represent a landscape, is it possible for them to be too successful?  Maps that once read, “There be monsters here” are being replaced by trip reports with extensive GPS information, photographs, and videos. What does this mean for the future of exploration? 

            One of the most challenging parts of the project has been deciding how much information to provide. We have considered a range of options from a to-scale map with information about camping, water, and other relevant information, to nothing more than rough suggestions of directions or areas to explore. The final map will be somewhere in between. It will include route suggestions and ideas for finding additional resources. It certainly won’t 
include photographs, but there will be illustrations. I think this is a good middle ground that conveys my own experiences as well as provide some information for prospective travelers to get started.
            The Wilderness and Civilization program has taught me about landscape connections. Connections are built through experiences. I have built connections with places through human-powered travel. My goal for this semester is to explore how this interaction is affected by preconceptions about what a place is going to be like while still facilitating and encouraging people to build connections to the places they live and travel.

I chose to draw a map and paint instead of take pictures in order to encourage human-powered travelers to create their own experiences, instead of search for an experience someone else has already had.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA)
Danny Savage
This semester, I am interning for Missoula Outdoor Learning Adventures (MOLA), an organization dedicated to connecting people to the outdoors.  One of their most popular programs is an outdoor adventure summer camp that includes hiking, biking, rafting, rock climbing, canoeing, swimming, and camping.  This semester, my tasks are outreach, administrative duties and field trips.  On Friday, March 14, Porter and I drove to Lolo Pass to give introductory cross country skiing lessons to sixty four sixth graders from the Florence school.  The kids were separated into groups and had several activities for the day, including snowshoeing and snow caves.  Porter and I had each group for forty minutes.  Porter said that normally, he has each group for at least an hour.  Consequently, he felt the lessons were a little rushed and talked to one of the teachers about it afterward.  Like most of the kids there, I had never been on cross country skis before and was anxious to try it.  Even though the kids did not realize it, I was learning with them during the first lesson.  Already having experience in downhill skiing, it was easy for me to learn and was a lot of fun.  The kids in each lesson did fairly well too except for one boy.  He was obese and was having a difficult time.  I stayed with him the entire time, gently encouraging him to keep trying and to not get frustrated.  However, he kept falling and was on the verge of tears the entire time.  He took his skis off for and walked the last fifty meters or so.  I felt bad for him but he just did not have good stability.  There were two kids who went Nordic skiing before the field trip.  One of these kids skied way ahead of the group.  We had to start heading back but he just kept going.  I called for him but he did not respond.  I am not sure if he did not hear me or just chose not to listen.  I skied quickly ahead until I reached the boy and directed him back to the others. 

            It is interesting to watch group dynamics.  The energy and personality of a group can often be dictated by just one or two people.  For example, there were a couple kids in the final group who were eager to help us return the gear to the car.  Their eagerness infected the rest of the group, who also assisted us.  After the children left for the day, Porter and I skied on our own.  It was like a winter wonderland!  We encountered the old visitor center cabin.  The snow had accumulated so much that we stood up to the second floor of the cabin, which was well over eight feet high.  This was my first field trip for MOLA.  It was a fun day and a testament to the positive impacts of experiential education.  Porter and I had over sixty children and myself on cross country skis for the first time even if it was just a taste.  I look forward to more field trips in the future.  With each new experience in the Wilderness and Civilization program, I gain wisdom: the wisdom to communicate with people effectively, react to issues and challenges, and appreciate nature in its most basic simplicity.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Clark Fork Organics Internship 
By Rory Davenport-Lambton
How did you spend your mildly rainy, mildly sunny Friday afternoon? On a normal afternoon like today’s I probably would have sat inside a classroom wishing I was home, reading a book, and drinking tea. Instead I got to work outside on a beautiful farm with some good friends.
            Clark Fork Organics is about six acres of a family run farm in the western Missoula Valley run by Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick. The farm is complete with three greenhouses, plenty of chickens, and of course a cute dog. They primarily grow specialty crops like salad mixes, but also a wide variety of vegetables, beans, herbs, and even flowers. Delicious eggs are collected from the chickens, who also help to fertilize the soil.
             Early spring preparation involves three interns sorting seeds, repairing tables, removing debris from the greenhouses and putting in tables for seed planting. Once the tables are in place and level we plant different types of onions, shallots, chard, kale, and basil. At this point we're scrambling to get everything ready, which means doing a little bit of anything that might need to be done. Just today I hauled a truckload of debris, rebuilt a table, planted several hundred more seeds, set and dug rows in one of the greenhouses, and herded chickens.
The farm is in constant cycling to make sure it all gets utilized, and because everything is constantly changing. As the snow melts, winter blossoms into spring, chickens find ways to escape without snow holding them inside, seeds get planted, greenhouses are cleared, soil gets tilled, nutrients added, new chicks arrive. As the spring grows into summer, more land will be filled with seeds, seeds will grow into strong plants, chickens will hide under shade cloths, greenhouses will cease to shelter seeds from the cold and instead will hold new seeds directly in the ground inside, and the community of working people at the farm will grow. Eventually summer will fade into fall, plants will be harvested until there are none left. Cleanup will begin, but the long hot days turning into days with flurries of rain and snow will make a full cleanup impossible. The winter will seal in the chickens once again. The bright colors of growth will be hidden under white piles of snow. But soon after, new seeds will arrive, and new interns as well, and the cycle will continue.

            As someone with next to no background in agriculture, particularly plant agriculture, even just these first couple months of my internship at Clark Fork Organics has taught me a lot. Now I know a little bit about different plant families, under what conditions and time frames they grow, how they are planted, how greenhouses work, what the cycles of small farms are, and some basic carpentry skills. But most important is a basic understanding that small farms can be successful in producing healthy food, maintaining a positive role in the community, acting as stewards of the land, fulfilling people, and teaching how these are all interconnected. Clark Fork Organics is exciting to work for, and Kim and Josh are excellent role models for how to achieve such an amazing lifestyle.

As my Friday afternoon drew to the warmer part of the day I stepped outside of the greenhouse. I watched the clouds role in overhead and felt the first few drops of rain on my flushed face. I drew in a deep breath, smelling the remnants of last years tomatoes and basil. I had been home, sick, most of the week, and questioned if I was healthy enough to be at my internship at all today, but in that moment I knew this was the best place I could be.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Wilderness and Civilization: A wild new year!

December brings the end of short days, long field trips, final papers, projects and reports.  As the Wilderness and Civilization program students finish up a hectic semester, we spend the last few days of the fall program at a wilderness retreat-taking the time to hang out together, review the past few months, reflect on friendships, group dynamics, program challenges and program highlights.  We plan our activities for the spring semester, eat potluck dinners together, and do a gift exchange.  We even fit in time to do a little wildlife tracking.  We had music provided by students, great views provided by the mountains rimming Como Lake, great fires in the cabin thanks to a whole semester of students splitting wood wherever we happened to stay, and great evening skies celebrated best on the frozen lake.

Each year, I have the incredible opportunity to engage with the students in the Wilderness and Civilization program as their instructor, program director, and hopefully, helpful mentor through an exciting educational experience.  I am always struck by the intelligence, motivation, work ethic, attitude, and positive group dynamic that forms between the students of the Wilderness and Civilization program.  As I reflect on the program going forward-things to change, things to keep, ways to increase the positivity of the experience for the students, I will always remember each and every student that has come through this program.  As 2013 draws to a close, and 2014, the year of Wilderness, and the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act begins, I smile and think of the coming adventures for students in the program, and the adventures being had by those that have gone before us.

May 2014 bring new adventures, new challenges, new views from amazing mountain tops, and the opportunity to push each of us in new directions.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Milltown Dam Site and DryCottonwood Creek Ranch: 

A Day of Tuber Talk, Slickens, and Surprises

We’ve been seeing a lot of each other. Ten weeks into the semester its easy to think we all know everything about each other, but despite this Rachel asked everyone to pair up and unearth a previously unknown fact about their partners. This led to fascinating conversation and ridiculous speculation. Back at the motor pool after the trip we circled up and shared ‘little known facts’ about each other. It was in turns hilarious, intriguing, edifying and surprising.

The same can be said for the entire field trip.

Getting to Milltown from Missoula is not challenging, however; we struggled. We made surprise visits to Turah and Bonner before winding through the Canyon River Golf Course to the overlook.

We parked at the small pullout and followed a paved path to a paved circle surrounded by four and a half foot fencing. Signs, placed at neat intervals along the fence, gave a chronological history of the Blackfoot-Clark Fork confluence below.

The first sign in the sequence pictured a Salish fishermen poised with his spear, presumably about after bull trout if the caption (explaining that the Salish called the confluence “Place of big bull trout”) is to be believed. The following Monday Clark Fork Coalition Science Director Chris Brick used the same picture in her slide show adding that the photograph was taken on Warm Springs Creek, the Clark Fork’s headwaters.

The signs progressed along the fence from west to east, the easternmost describing the final restoration and remediation efforts of 2008. Mike Kustudia, manager of Milltown State Park summarized the history, emphasizing the Milltown’s significance as a ‘hub.’ The Sapphire Mountains run south from Mount Sentinel; the Rattlesnake Range heads north from Woody Mountain; the Blackfoot River flows in from the east; the Clark Fork courses north from Butte. Highway 90 passes through Milltown, so do train tracks and highway 200. Mike’s love of the place was apparent and slightly infectious. He painted a picture of the future Milltown park, with fishing and ‘tuber’ access and a paved bike path connected to the Kim Williams trail here in Missoula, continuing along all the way to Turah.

One placard pictured the confluence mid-restoration. The ‘place of big bull trout’ looked like a construction site, like maybe Walmart was coming to Milltown. In the intervening years much has changed at the site, but evidence that man sculpted the place abounds: square ponds, straight roads, and a river channel that resembles a far too perfect sine wave.

What struck me most about the restoration efforts at Milltown, particularly in contrast to our afternoon along the upper Clark Fork, was that the restoration is not just of the land. The State Park and Mike Kustudia are using the clean-up to launch a restoration of Milltown itself.

This is in direct opposition to the efforts along the Upper Clark Fork where the land along the river is held almost entirely by private landowners, most of whom raise cattle. These ranchers have worked around the pollution for one hundred years. They marked it off, not necessarily as hazardous, but because the strangely barren land couldn’t feed cattle. These empty patches became just as much a part of the landscape as the Pintler Mountains to the west and the Sapphires to the east. They even made a name for these areas, slickens. The river’s edge was fenced and cows never saw its surface. Now restoration efforts plan to build roads to these fenced off regions, roads through productive pastures.

We visited Maggie Schmidt, the Ranch Manager for the Clark Fork Coalition’s Dry Cottonwood Creek Ranch. She, an Environmental Studies major, working for a river conservation group, raised concerns about the EPA’s ability to restore the river without ruining her business. She is certainly more open to restoration than any other rancher; her ranch is an experiment in restoration. And yet even she questions its feasibility. The plan promises reimbursement for all troubles caused by the restoration but for how long and to what extent?

This field trip contributed answers to some questions, but brought new questions into our discussions of environmental restoration.  For example, I’m worried that we’ve too quickly glanced over the concerns of ranchers. They possess a wisdom borne of generations on the land. It brought up questions for us about the industrial scale of some restoration efforts. Some of us felt like our new awareness of all this pollution in Milltown and the larger Clark Fork watershed shouldn’t empower us to launch yet another industrial project; perhaps instead it should scare us into sitting on our hands for a while.

Chris Brick spoke to our class the week following our field trip. In her presentation, she framed the restoration project as a ‘big one right for the west.’ What does something like that cost? Not just in construction fees, but in terms of risk. Risk associated with unearthing one hundred years of pollution, resurfacing time-tested ranch land, and, most concernedly for us, displacing all of the hazardous material onto the town of Opportunity.

The ‘final destination’ for all the hazardous soils taken from the Clark Fork is the town of Opportunity. The Anaconda Company constructed the town of Opportunity in the 1950’s. They had been using the swampy area as a repository for a while and with growing concern about the environmental implications of so much toxic sludge in one place the company decided to build a town by it. The logic being that it can’t be too terrible if people live near it. In the restoration of the last decade there has been discussion at each stage of where to relocate all the pollution. In the Milltown dam removal experts recommended a local repository, but the idea was ultimately nixed. The repository would have been in a floodplain and for many it made more sense to concentrate all the toxic business in one place. The repository will need to be monitored in perpetuity. Perpetuity is a long time.

If there’s a common idea tying environmental efforts together today, it’s that the natural world is constantly changing, and so are we. How then can we really promise ‘in perpetuity’? The western environmental movement isn’t even a century old. Has the human race practiced anything ceaselessly? As a culture, do we even have a concept of what that might look like?