Courtesy of Montana Grain Growers Association
Our home state’s flag is a blue background hosting the seal of Montana. This circle shows the Great Falls of the Missouri, along with mountains, a pick and shovel, and a farming plow. Draped across the bottom is a banner with the Spanish words for gold and silver, “ORO Y PLATA.” This artwork dates back to 1865, when Montana was still a territory booming with gold fever and mining companies and thousands of individuals from everywhere, all hoping to coax precious metals from Montana’s veins.
This was just a beginning, as cavalry officers, re-assigned from our Civil War to keep the peace in this new society, saw the potential in our endless sea of grass. They poached retiring soldiers and drove herds of cattle from the southern states, establishing the great historic ranches still prevalent in Montana today.
Not long after, our farmers arrived, employing the plow and their wits to coax grain from the earth. All of these endeavors brought a spectrum of nationalities together, tested and refined them to ensure they were tough and hardy, and made the Montana we are today.
A few years ago, an ad campaign sought to label Montana as “Big Sky Country;” it’s an apt description and has apparently stuck. Ours are certainly grand vistas, clean air, and an endless horizon. This was, I suppose, a better connection to the visitors we sought to attract. To native Montanans, ours is still the “Treasure State.”
The treasure, for those in rural areas, is not the gold and silver and copper.
It is, rather, the riches of a life on what can still be called a frontier. Much of America lives in the cities, most notably in the coastal states, and may view Montana’s handful of “cities” as rural small towns. Perhaps they are right, as our rural values are held by many who live in Great Falls, Billings or Missoula.
But, for our farmers and ranchers, who live a purely rural lifestyle, the valued treasure comes into focus. It is just this- the privilege of a uniquely independent life, seemingly paradoxically combined with a culture of working together to ensure the well-being of neighbor and community.
The farmer members of Montana Grain Growers Association take their business seriously, and most did not choose their profession for the lifestyle. They tend to feel an odd sense of responsibility for feeding a hungry world, and enjoy the challenge of working with nature to create the grains we enjoy. You can often spot these farmers on our avenues and highways, their trucks fitted with the golden license plate with a close-up graphic of ripened wheat and, across the bottom, the slogan, “Raising The Word’s Finest Grain.”
Farmers like these make sure the schools, churches, hospitals, charities and other organizations remain viable in rural Montana, gifting their time and experience. Or, perhaps the care is given to an individual family in trouble- many are the times when farmers have left their own fields, converging to plant or harvest the crop of a farm in crisis.
This treasure that is lifestyle is a gift coming as a byproduct of farmers’ passion for the business. The difficulty inherent in growing food fosters an appreciation for nature, certainly, but also for these unexpected gifts. Perhaps the greatest treasure is the youth these farmers raise, instilling thankfulness and a work ethic for our future. Whether these farm kids follow in these footsteps or travel beyond to other challenges, they will serve well, as a product of the Treasure State!