Exploring Water and Agriculture in the Mission Valley

By CORY FRONING and JULIA GOODHART

It has been a wild few weeks! The L&L students have been on some wonderful adventures recently, and we’ll try to catch you up with everything!  After an awesome day chopping and hauling firewood with community members to ensure everyone has plenty of wood for the winter, we left our beautiful homestead to live and learn on the other side of the Mission mountains for five days.  We stayed on the Flathead Reservation, which comprises the bulk of the valley south of Flathead Lake, and is currently home to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes.  Opened to white settlement in 1910, there is additionally a recent history of homesteading and agriculture on the reservation.

Looking southeast at the Mission Mountains from our campsite!

Looking southeast at the Mission Mountains from our campsite!

Happy to have made it to camp after winding through Jocko pass

Happy to have made it to camp after winding through Jocko pass

We spent our first morning at The People’s Center, which is a beautiful home and tribute to stories, photographs, and artifacts of the Salish, Pend d'Oreille and Kootenai tribes. This museum and cultural center was built with a vision of educational events, cultural celebration, and continuation of an oral history passed down from one generation to the next. We were incredibly lucky to be given a comprehensive tour by Dana Hewankorn who generously shared insight into her and her family’s own experiences. She spoke of traditional cradleboards which she carries her children in, and the way they encourage a lifestyle of quiet observation from an early age. She also spoke of her grandfather, who repeatedly walked miles and miles in the harsh winter as a five-year-old to find his way back to his family. It was for grand feats like this, she noted, that people were historically given the privilege of wearing the enormous, immaculate headdresses whose creation were a part of the tribes’ winter tasks.

Dana spent much of the morning teaching our students traditional games. Above, attempting to reign in a small wooden hoop with a stick teaches small children hand-eye coordination. Below is a game of endurance that women would play for days on end while the men were hunting or otherwise occupied.

After we got our energy out at the People’s Center, we headed over to GregSchock’s Dairy Farm where we learned about the challenges and benefits of farming on the Flathead Reservation. Greg was humble and spoke to us of how grateful he is for his land and water rights which never limit his operation. He opened up to us about his growing practices (for corn), the competitive global market which he is a part of, how he raises and cares for his animals, and how his farm has influenced his political, social, and family life.

Learning about life at the dairy with Greg Schock

Learning about life at the dairy with Greg Schock

Calves at Schock's Mission View Dairy

Calves at Schock's Mission View Dairy

Greg Schock shared information with such generosity and kindness. Here he answers some of our tireless questions!

Greg Schock shared information with such generosity and kindness. Here he answers some of our tireless questions!

Bryce from People & Carnivores talks to us about his work, building bear fences and relationships with people whose livelihoods are inextricable from their land.

Bryce from People & Carnivores talks to us about his work, building bear fences and relationships with people whose livelihoods are inextricable from their land.

After talking with Greg, we headed down to his corn fields with Bryce Andrews.  Bryce is working with People and Carnivores and the Schocks to build an electric fence around the corn field to prevent bears from feeding on the crop.

After each day packed full of learning from the community, we returned to our campsite to cook together, decompress, and discuss the day and course readings around the warm fire, under bright stars. Giddy with new information, the empowering rush of new connections formed, the confusing and exciting opportunity of each new complexity.  All of us appreciative of the sunshine and sprawling spaces in this new place.

We headed the next day to visit with Susan and Jack Lake, who operate a seed potato farm in the valley.  We spoke primarily about water usage in the valley, and the ties between irrigating farmers, ranchers, and the tribes.

The western United States has prior-appropriation system of water rights - “first in time, first in right.”  This means that water usage is allocated depending on the date an entity first began using the water for a “beneficial” use, typically irrigating for farming or ranching.  For many in the valley, this coincides with their families’ homesteading date. Of course, native peoples have been in Montana for thousands of years.  As water has become increasingly precious in recent years with droughts exacerbated by climate change, the state of Montana, the federal government, and the tribes are attempting to come to an agreement about water usage in years to come.  The matter is very complex, politically and socially, and so we began to learn from Susan and others about this negotiation of policy and community.

Watching the potato harvest with Susan Lake

Watching the potato harvest with Susan Lake

The entire truck on the left is full of potatoes!

The entire truck on the left is full of potatoes!

Sitting in the cool grass, out of the sun and away from the noisy potato harvesting equipment, we get some time to speak with Jack and Susan together.

Sitting in the cool grass, out of the sun and away from the noisy potato harvesting equipment, we get some time to speak with Jack and Susan together.

That afternoon we headed to the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, a community-based food processing space, that allows local farmers and small businesses to utilize commercially-inspected equipment to sell to a broader market.  This is a huge asset to the community, and is always a joy to visit! This year, Jan spoke about many of the cherries around Flathead Lake that split and were no longer suitable for the market - because of MMFEC, farmers were able to process, pit, and freeze these cherries to sell to local stores.  Without this service, all of these cherries would not have been sold or eaten.

The next morning, we checked out the Salish-Kootenai Dam, the only tribally owned major hydro-electric dam in the US. The site was an important cultural area for the tribes, and tribal representatives opposed the construction of the dam, which was finished in 1938.  Thus, current tribal ownership of this dam is even more important.  The tribes paid for the dam approximately one year ago.

The view of the Flathead River from the lookout atop Salish-Kootenai Dam

The view of the Flathead River from the lookout atop Salish-Kootenai Dam

Andrea discusses the hydrology surrounding the dam with students, looking eastward toward the Mission mountains.

Andrea discusses the hydrology surrounding the dam with students, looking eastward toward the Mission mountains.

The myth! The legend! The woman herself! Nicole Jarvis!

The myth! The legend! The woman herself! Nicole Jarvis!

Before we made the trek home to the Swan, we made a stop in Moiese that was meant to be quick, but we couldn’t rip ourselves away from Ploughshare Farm and ended up staying there well into the afternoon. Nicole and Cale blew us away with their work ethic and passion. They taught us about The Western Montana Growers’ Co-op which buys produce from small organic farmers. The co-op divides the produce between local vendors and a CSA with over 200 members. Because of this, farmers don’t have to worry about having a constant supply of one crop for grocery stores, and the stores can rest assured that they will always have local produce from one of the co-op’s farms. Nicole and Cale also explained Homegrown Montana, which inspired and riled up the students. Homegrown Montana is an alternative to organic certification, which relies on neighbors inspecting each other, ensuring not only that the food is grown organically and sustainably, but also that workers are treated well, livestock is treated humanely, and native plant biodiversity is increased on farmland. Our students began the drive back over the Mission Mountains with dirt under their fingernails, two-legged carrots in their bellies, giggles spilling out of their huge exhausted smiles, and minds whirling with thoughts of future lives like Nicole and Cale’s that wordlessly demonstrate what it means to be connected to a place.

Lydia and Lucy munch on juicy drippy watermelon and sweet sweet cherry tomatoes, just a fraction of the delicious, decadent produce that Nicole and Cale sent home with us.

Lydia and Lucy munch on juicy drippy watermelon and sweet sweet cherry tomatoes, just a fraction of the delicious, decadent produce that Nicole and Cale sent home with us.

Ploughshare Farm - home to Nicole Jarvis, Cale Nittinger, Connor, and Clara

Ploughshare Farm - home to Nicole Jarvis, Cale Nittinger, Connor, and Clara

Aspen, Henry, and Evan clean carrots they harvested earlier in the afternoon. The root washer is cooperatively owned and used by the farmers of the Western Montana Growers Co-op.

Aspen, Henry, and Evan clean carrots they harvested earlier in the afternoon. The root washer is cooperatively owned and used by the farmers of the Western Montana Growers Co-op.