Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies, Sugar Beets 101

Environmental Studies Livelihoods Tied to Landscapes

Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies stu­dents tak­ing Dr. Luke Ward’s Intro­duc­tion to Envi­ron­men­tal Stud­ies and Regional Geog­ra­phy of Land­scape Change classes at  Rocky Moun­tain Col­lege (RMC) are work­ing to develop a grounded under­stand­ing of the processes and peo­ple that shape the human and bio­geo­phys­i­cal land­scapes in Mon­tana.   A key aspect of this work is to visit and learn from Yel­low­stone County res­i­dents whose liveli­hoods are closely tied to the landscape.

Recently, thanks to John Pulasky of Our Montana and officials and farmers from the Western Sugar Cooperative in Billings, Introduction to Environmental Studies students had the opportunity to visit a sugar beet field operated by Bill Michael and to watch and ask questions while Mr. Michael and his crew harvested beets.
Later in the afternoon, the class visited a Western Sugar Co-op “beet dump” just out¬side of Huntley, MT and learned the economics and logistics of moving beets from fields to beet dumps and eventually to the Western Sugar factory in Billings. The beet dump tour was organized by Western-Sugar Coop Agriculturalist Andy Steiger.

Environmental Studies The main objectives of this type of field-based learning are: 1) to develop working relation¬ships and lines of communication between students in RMC’s environmental programs and local farmers and organizations like Our Montana; 2) to give RMC students first-hand exposure to the economic, political, social, and environmental complexities of the commodities that they consume. In the end, the goal is that these experiences challenge students to re-consider “taken for granted” assumptions they may harbor regarding the relationship between agriculture, human-development, and the environment in Montana.