A New Sustainable Way of Ranching?


When one thinks about cattle ranching, many tend to think of cowboys hollering on horses with ropes at the ready to herd any unruly cows back to the herd. Maybe that is how it’s done on some cattle ranches, but not on the Oxbow Cattle Ranch, which is a ranch that I had the privilege of visiting during my time at the PEAS Farm. Bart (the mastermind behind the operations) is a humble, intelligent and caring man who has a Wildlife Biology degree, that he chose to put towards raising cattle in a sustainable and low stress way. I chose to write about this man and his ranch because I found his ways of cattle raising so incredibly fascinating that I had to talk about it!

Bart believes that raising cattle needs to be done with integrity for the cows, as well as the land. First of all, he utilizes wildlife friendly fence to aid wild animals in movement across the land. The fence essentially has two barbed wire lines in the center, and just smooth wire on the top and bottom, that can be connected to the center two barbed wires to make it wildlife friendly. The cows can’t get out of the fence and the wildlife can move through with less chances of injuring themselves. It really is a brilliant fence to use in a place such as Montana.


Bart is the man on the left, installing the wildlife friendly fences on his property. 

He also does intensive rotations of his cows on his land, so that the cows will not overgraze the areas that they are in. If the cows are in the space for the right amount of time they will eat enough, but not down to the roots, which leads to stress on plants and less vegetation the next year. While in that space for the set amount of time the cows hooves will churn the earth and return organic matter to the soil (through their feces and left behind loose grasses), which leads to a richer soil. The idea is that the vegetation will grow back in more volume the next year, all the while reducing invasive weeds (knapweed). He showed us an example of these, and it was amazing to see the results of sustainable grazing rotations in the works.

The thing that I found to be the most amazing was how he treats his cows. Bart employs a low stress method of herding his cows. He never yells at them, nor slaps or uses a shock rod to get them moving. He explained a way of ‘putting pressure’ on the cows by just taking steps or moving your body in the right way to get them to move in the way that is needed. It was all very technical, and I think that I would have to see it in action to truly understand how it is done. I was so intrigued by this, because I have never heard of any methods life this before.

I was just so impressed with how much time and effort he put into thinking about how to raise these cows. Many people don’t realize that animals can feel things that humans do, and I respect Bart for realizing this and using methods that are low stress on these animals that are living and ultimately dying for our consumption.

The Secret to Happiness

Snuggly Bugs

I don’t think that I have ever been quite as happy as I am this summer working at the PEAS farm, living a simple but fulfilling life. I ate great food, worked in a beautiful place, had meaningful conversations with people who sincerely care about what is going on in the world, and I was finally in a place where I think I belonged. I think that usually I was always looking for something more, yet I never quite knew what it was I am looking for. But, this summer I realized what I have been needing to be truly happy.

My fellow workers and even instructors at the farm had many conversations about what it takes to live a fulfilling and joyful life. We narrowed it down to a few different components; a person needs to have meaningful conversations with people, to exercise daily in some form or another, as well as seeing the rewards from your hard work.

Humans are not solitary creatures; we crave human interaction. To be happy, people instinctively need other people in their lives. We cannot be truly happy unless the people we have in our lives mean something to us; we have to care about the people we have in our lives to live a fulfilling life. We need meaningful conversations with these people we care about, because we cannot be happy with small talk that essentially means nothing.

Another extremely thing humans need in life to be content is daily exercise. This doesn’t mean that we all need to hit the gym every day, but we definitely need to be doing something active. The activity that I experienced at the farm was just the routine farming: weeding, planting, walking, and lifting heavy objects. Any kind of activity—such as hiking, walking or biking to work, or playing a fun game of basketball with friends—can help people to live a more fulfilled life.

The last component of happiness that we discussed at the farm was seeing the rewards of your work. I experienced this in the way of planting small crops at the beginning of the summer, watching them slowly grow into large and lush plants, and then eating the fruits of my (and my peers) labor. Simply eating the food that we grew, somehow made it all taste better than I could have ever believed.

You know you’re happy when you see bugs snuggled in the flowers and you wish that you could capture that moment forever. Happiness comes in all shapes and forms, but this summer, I connected with people, plants and the land, and that is all I could ever ask for.

Local Farming Unveiled

Until this summer, I had never truly thought about where all of my food comes from. Although, I had thought about where meat comes from and how terrible the commercial industry is for those animals that are raised for our consumption. I have never realized how ultimately disconnected I–as well as many other people are–was from my food sources. What I didn’t realize before was that the commercial produce industry is about as bad to the land as the commercial meat industry is to both the land and animals. The majority of the commercial produce industry supports mono-cultures of food and therefore supports the use of herbicides and pesticides, which in turn ruins the soil and pollutes rivers and streams. People are so disconnected from this reality because the majority of people just buy their food from the grocery store and don’t pay attention to where it is coming from and how it is produced.

Working this summer at the ten acre organic PEAS Farm up the Rattlesnake, I learned just how large of a disconnect there is between people and their food in the modern world. Because of my time working at the farm, I now try to make more responsible choices with where I purchase my food from. I have realized that I want a life filled with good, real food, that is produced from local growers who work hard to produce this beautiful and delicious food. After meeting many of these local growers around the state of Montana, I recognized their integrity and their love of the land. These people work so hard to produce real food for people all around Montana, all the while making sure that their practices uplift the land rather than tearing it down. These are the farmers and ranchers who, at the farmers markets, will talk to you, tell you how they grow everything, and get about anything you need from what they produce. Fortunately, in Missoula there is a large amount of people who really do care, and this is evidenced by the crowds of people under the bridge and by the X’s in downtown Missoula on Saturday mornings during the summer. I am so fortunate to live in a place where the integrity of the land is protected, and where purchasing real local produce is a livelihood.


WWII and Shoes

My biggest focus with the GLI program has been the question of what gets the point across the best.  In what way can one human being make a message really resonate with another. This trip made me realize that there can’t be one right way, there has to be many ways to get to many different audiences.

I did a lot of amazing things during my six week stint in Vienna, including visiting Budapest, Munich, and the Czech Republic. Each city had its own story to tell, and in most cases they had to tell me in under 48 hours. Some of these stories are familiar, and some with a new twist. For the longest time I’ve thought that stories were the best way to make things really stick. But since being back in the states, I’m starting to realize that the things that stuck with me aren’t the stories, it’s other various things.

In Munich, I visited Dachau, or the first work camp under Hitler’s regime. But somehow, even though I heard the stories of the horror that occurred in that place, it didn’t stick. I barely remember it. There were lots of places on that trip related to WWII, as most of the fighting was in that area of the world. But the only place that resonated with me was in Budapest. It was a memorial for Jewish victims in the city who were shot by arrow cross militia men into the Danube. The memorial is a bunch of shoes along the Danube bank. And though it was subtle, it hit me the hardest.

For the longest time I have always thought of WWII being much further in the past than it actually was. But this memorial was of shoes. Style and fashion and how it evolves has always been of interest to me. The only thought I had was that these shoes were so similar to ours. Half of the women’s shoes are styled pretty much exactly the same as some of the ones in my grandmother’s closet that I used to play dress up with as a child.

As it turns out, that was what I needed to make this story real to me. Not a story about the holocaust. Not a story about Hitler’s rise to power. Not a tour of the places in Munich. The thing I needed was to see an artist’s memorial using shoes.  This is why we need artists. We need musicians, painters, writers, story tellers, and everything else. We need these people to put emotion behind fact and turn facts into perceived reality.


What an Atheist Learns at Corpus Christi

It was rather surprising when I found myself at Saint Stephan’s Cathedral on Corpus Christi. As a catholic turned atheist I hadn’t been to mass in years, and I did it while I was out of country nonetheless. Since I went with a group of music students, we were there to listen to Mozart’s Requiem along with a couple of Handel pieces being performed in the space they were originally written for. I found the entirety of this experience to be something much more than any mass could even hope to be in the United States….or at least the churches I’ve been to.

The mass started out with incense. Incense everywhere. The sweet smell filled the room and left no space for any other scent to be perceived. Next came a procession of families tied to the church, followed by all of the altar boys and officials of the church. All were in traditional garb. From the sectioned off area to the front of the cathedral was painted with costumes that could only be outshone by the architecture of the building itself. As stated in my previous blog post, Saint Stephan’s cathedral is of a Gothic style. This means that of course every inch of every wall is decorated with the finest of details. One could get lost in the details for the rest of their lives, if it weren’t for the gothic way of forcing the eyes to the front of the room. This ensured that we paid attention to the sermon.

Though it was hot, and we were sitting (and occasionally kneeling) shoulder to shoulder on hard benches, it was not hard to make it through the entirety of the program. The chanting filled the entire space with one vibration that we could feel. The sermon was entirely in German, but we could still generally get the gist. The music was absolutely gorgeous. Every part had enough space to really be heard, it wasn’t all cramped together in a tiny space where they only thing you can hear is the sopranos. Every part was allowed to flourish.  During greetings there was a sense of connectedness when you shook the hand of your neighbors. During communion it was something else to have the taste of the body and blood of Christ at the tip of your tongue.  At one point in time during the music you could see the incense’s smoke flowing upward toward the light of an open window and the only thing that I could think of was the smoke’s ascent to the heavens.

All of the senses were in overdrive. There was not one sense that wasn’t being utilized to create this indescribable feeling. Some people no doubt think of it as the presence of God. Many of us on the trip that I spoke to after said it was more unsettling than comfortable- it probably didn’t help that most of us are non-believers. Nonetheless, so many people made it their lives work to craft this feeling.  Many people expressed their love and/or fear of God through the format of the service.

And this lead me to the realization that expression isn’t just for communication. Expression brings feelings—whether that feeling be a cozy one or one that shakes you to your bones. It’s so much more than communication. While communication can bring you facts or opinions, it’s really the expression of these facts that gives somebody feelings of empathy. With no empathy, there is no real understanding. I can calmly state that the world is going to end for ages, but if nobody else truly feels the same way I do, then what good is it? People would continue on in their normal way if they hadn’t really internalized the message.

Expression, no matter the medium, is far more important than I have ever previously given it credit for.

Expression in The Walls

For the past three years, I have been studying in-depth one side of my theme-communication. So for this study abroad, I decided to leap into expression, as after much self-reflection I realized I had no clue really what expression was to me. I, for the life of me, could not figure out just why expression was important. Don’t get me wrong, I knew it was, but I wished to know why. What drives humans to express, and what is the purpose? For my study abroad, I chose to take a trip with 18 music students to Vienna. I thought I would learn mostly about music, but thus far I have been very wrong.

I spent the first couple of weeks not learning about music that much at all. My class did not start for three weeks, so I spent my time taking walking tours offered by another class and an Art teacher that tagged along for the first week, Dr. H. Rafael Chacón. Through his stories and insight, I have found a purpose to expression.

Vienna is an interesting city. I have traveled around Europe a lot and have seen many ruins and buildings that were made during the time that the style was popular. Vienna, however, displays many buildings that were built more recently when the particular architecture would be out of style, but with a purpose in mind (note- recently is still about 200 years ago). Take for example the Rathaus, which hosts the mayor and city council. It was built between 1872 and 1883 in a neo-gothic style. Why? Gothic style architecture itself flourished during the 12th century France and lasted into the 16th century. Around this time you see cities becoming more independent- almost to the point that they were independent city-states. So when making a seat for the mayor and city council, the architects pulled from a time frame that was reminiscent of city government. The architecture choice basically screams to the people (or it would, if people knew much about art history unlike myself) “Hey, this is the city government!”

The domes in Vienna also are very expressive. There’s the dome of St. Michael’s gate- the entrance to the Hofburg. This gate was never designed to be used for any other purpose than a gate- which is weird. Most domes in European palace architecture are placed over important spaces such as great halls or throne rooms. So why here? Dr. Chacón believes it to be a symbol of wealth and power. During the time this was built, it was ever important for the Hapsburg in rule to remain in power. This was one of the last monarchies. So putting the dome at the gate from the city to the palace was their way of reminding the people that they were in power.

Thus far I’ve been talking about the expression of the royals to the people. But what about the people themselves? That’s where this next dome sort of comes in. It is, in fact, probably my favorite dome that I’ve ever seen. It’s gorgeous, it’s golden, and it’s basically a big “Fuck you” to the art academy. I am referring to the dome atop the Secession building. At the point in time of its building, times were changing. Art was shifting. The artists didn’t want to be stuck in historicism, they wanted something new. So they started the Seccession movement. This dome, which serves no purpose as it is airy and does not change the inside of the building at all, makes fun of the other domes of all of the historicism buildings.

What I’ve learned from these three pieces of architecture (along with many, many more) is that sometimes expression is an enhancement to communication. Sometimes, simply saying you are powerful isn’t enough. Sometimes you have to build a dome to really prove your point. Sometimes, the action of doing something speaks much louder than the words ever could.

Zambia, a Unified Nation

After visiting Zambia, I was surprised to learn that it is one of the poorest countries in the world. Although there is a lot of poverty, Zambians have a high quality of life. The people were happy and very friendly to tourists. This shocked me as in most of my travels abroad I’ve had to be careful not to be taken advantage of and even robbed. There’s some frustration in Zambia that the country doesn’t perform as well as it could, but the reality is that it’s doing great for a nation of its type.  Zambia is a very stable country that has never fought a war. Part of the country’s success is that the government recognizes all of the nation’s 73 chiefdoms. Each chief controls his own land and the profits from any economic activity in his area. Each tribe speaks its own language, but the tribes are able to communicate with each other in English due to their colonial history with England. It is rare for a county with such diversity to get along, particularly in Africa. The reality is that the people of Zambia are very peaceful, which is surprising given their northern neighbor, the Congo, is fighting a civil war. These peaceable traits could make Zambia very attractive to a strong tourism industry if there were enough investment. According to our guide, who has led safaris in Africa for eight years, “Zambia is the real Africa.”

Livingstone’s Tourism Industry

Livingstone is known as the tourism capital of Zambia. This is due to its location near various national parks including the World Heritage Site, Victoria Falls. Victoria Falls is the country’s third largest industry only behind copper mining and agriculture. The city itself is completely reliant on this industry either directly or indirectly. Local villagers profit from the falls by selling merchandize to tourists. I don’t know if a better example of globalization exists than Zambia’s tourism industry. In a formerly isolated black country, it is now common to see white tourists on the streets. In the city, many locals work to attain desirable jobs in lodging and restaurants, while others try to sell any goods they may have to tourists on the streets. This has affected the village way of life visibly as locals exploit this new market. Though village life is common, they have also modernized due to western influence. For example, the Makuni village near Victoria Falls has a paved road leading to it, has walkway signs for its dirt trails and its chief owns his own vehicle. This success is largely due to the chief working with the tourism industry to arrange for foreigners to visit villages where the locals are more than happy to give tours and sell goods. The villagers benefit economically from this practice, but It is also changing the culture and identity of these people.

Most visitors come to Zambia to visit the grand Victoria Falls. This site is the major funder of the rest of the country’s 20 national parks due to the large amount of visitors is receives. One of the major faults in the industry is that the country’s other parks aren’t well advertized by the government either domestically or abroad.  The government doesn’t provide enough funding for brochures to be printed for display at the visitor centers or lodges. For example, even though Victoria Falls receive a lot of visitors, the park which surrounds the falls is hardly recognized by visitors. These are places where the industry could expand.


Empty picnic area, Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

The other inhibitor to expansion is that most the money the tourism industry brings in goes to companies abroad. All lodges except one we visited were foreign owned. It’s one of the major hurdles a developing nation such as Zambia has to overcome. The lack of wealth in Zambia equates to a lack of domestic investment.

On Zambia’s Conservation Issue

My first few days in Zambia were focused on studies on the local tourism industry as well as learning about locals, their culture and lifestyles. We spent the days visiting local organizations, trusts and lodges and following up on what we learned with afternoon discussions. The focus on the class was on the importance of the tourism industry to local economies and the conservation of environment and wildlife which attracts visitors.  We spent a lot of our time with the Zambian Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) which serves in the same manner as the National Park Service in the U.S.

The largest issue with conservation in Zambia and its surrounding countries is poaching. It’s done in such a large scale that it’s nearly eliminated lion and rhino populations and heavily affected water buffalo, elephants and other species. The issue is so severe that there are only nine white rhinos in the country which are guarded 24/7 by armed guards from poachers. Most illegal hunting however is done with the use of snares. Snares are simply tangles of barbed wire and are so widely used that ZAWA has a difficult time keeping up. To put it into perspective, the lodge we stayed at after our first week would sweep its roughly 100-acre property each week for snares. Wildlife organizations we visited in the area would also display snares they’d picked on large stacks by the hundreds. It is difficult to catch the culprits since there is so much land they cover and they are able to set up traps under the radar. Those who are caught are usually found when checking on their snares. They face a prison sentence when they do. Much of the issue is due to a lucrative market for such animals in a heavily impoverished area. This makes it a challenge to keep people from resorting to poaching for a living.


ZAWA guarding rhino’s in Mosi-oa-Tunya National Park

One of the more attainable methods to combat poaching is through education. In Zambia, education is not easily attainable, but it is possible. Public schools are often underfunded and sometimes hard to reach. Even so I was impressed to see how many kids attend school, which was visible when we drove by as classes were dismissed. Toward the end of our stay we were able to visit a public school that was well funded by the African Wildlife Foundation. They renovated their facilities and also the style of education, focusing on conservation of the environment and wildlife. I wonder what the long-term impact could be if all schools were that way.


AWF funded school focuses on conservation

ZAWA has only limited funding, so is its ability to operate is limited. This leads to a lack of confidence in the organization by locals and businesses. The owners of our lodge indicated they would be willing to work with ZAWA, but there is little interaction between them and other tourist lodges. Perhaps the private sector could help the organization’s operations in the future.

The Final Moments and Jumping the Pond

August 26, 2015

Wrapping up in Tassie included diving the Great Barrier Reef, Climbing above Seals on the coast, taking finals, saying goodbye to some of the most incredible people I’ve ever met, and more adventures than I could have ever imagined. It was a place that once was overwhelmed by the fear of the unknown, but by the beginning of July, was just as hard as leaving my home in Montana. I’ve been back home for about a month and it still amazes me just how much I miss Australia. I grew to love the culture, the people, the food, and the continual kindness that everyone showed me. I was able to explore so much and took classes about subjects that were completely foreign to me. It was incredible in almost every aspect.

I think one of the hardest parts of going abroad is the idea of leaving this new home you’ve created without knowing when you’ll be back. Most times, we visit our homes on Christmas or maybe spring break. But, when your home is on the other side of the world, things are automatically more complicated. Coming home, while great in a different way, was one of the hardest parts of my study abroad experience. However, there is a Whinny the Pooh quote that sums up the entirety of this experience… “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard?” This quote really hit home, because it’s exactly how my experience was. I looked forward to coming home, but never wanted to say goodbye. I created a new family and home. I’m so incredibly lucky to have an experience that changed my life in a completely positive way and I couldn’t have asked for anything more!