WHERE'S THE BEEF?


“If you don’t hurry, the Westby highway’s going to be closed before you can get back home!”

My mom’s warning echoed in my ears as the wind-driven snow swirled around my car, sliding across the windshield and coating the road with slick, icy slush.  Should I turn around and give up on my errand, or keep going and chance that A) things would get better, or B) I could at least make it back before they got much worse? Aaah, springtime in Eastern Montana!

March 29th, and the last day of school before Easter vacation dawned clear and bright. Blue skies and gleaming snow deposited by the previous week’s blizzard gave promise to a beautiful day and a beautiful holiday weekend. Spirits lifted and the hope of spring was in the air---unless you happened to read the weather report. Then you saw that another snow-dumping, hope-dashing storm was going to hit by afternoon. School dismissed into a driving snowstorm, with excited kids yelling, “Blizzard!” as they ran out the door to their buses. I kind of rolled my eyes, there in the warmth of my little room. It wasn’t THAT bad, but kids are prone to exaggeration. I’d still be able to make it to my appointment. Famous last words.

I was off to visit a farm about a half hour from Plentywood where they had kindly offered to let me snap a few pictures of their friendly cows. “Friendly” is an important prerequisite for any of my cow models since I am a far cry from the Cow Whisperer!  I needed a good shot of a cow to go along with my post on Harvest of the Month and March’s HOM product, beef, and I had no intention of starring in the Montana version of the Running of the Bulls.

Harvest of the Month is a wonderful program that helps students learn about Montana-grown foods. Each month features a different product grown or raised in Montana, and students have the opportunity to do a taste test, eat a dish featuring that month’s ingredient in the cafeteria, and participate in educational activities in the classroom. At Plentywood Schools, participating classrooms eagerly look forward to their visits from the local Montana State University extension agent, Sheila Freidrich, who leads a wonderful half hour full of fun, farming, and food.

This month I’d also gotten a chance to be in classrooms, rocking their world with information about beef by-products (they’ll never look at a marshmallow the same way again). Now I was on my way to get up close and personal with the interested parties themselves, but first I was getting up close and personal with some gnarly Montana spring weather.

So did I turn around? Give up? Go home? Um, this is me we’re talking about. I’m probably responsible for at least half the gray hairs on my sainted mother’s head. My brother, ol’ Nine-fingered Dave is largely responsible for the rest of them, but that’s another story.

Actually, by the time I got out to the farm, the sky was beginning to lighten and the storm showed some signs of slacking off. The wind was swirling the already-fallen snow, however, and the temperature hovered in the teens. I was still dressed in my office wear, but I’d brought along a lovely pair of rubber boots to change into. Those, along with my winter jacket would be more than enough to keep me warm on the short jaunt to the cows. Hmmm. Where ARE the cows?

“We’ll have to take the utility vehicle. It’s less likely to get stuck. Here, let me brush this snow off the seat for you.”

And that, my friends, is how I found myself in an open-sided utility vehicle, squinting into the wind, and bouncing across frozen fields towards a distant herd of snow-encrusted bovines. An enthusiastic border collie kept pace alongside, preferring the honest work of running through snow drifts to a prodigal life of ease and luxury inside the ­­well-ventilated ATV. Afterward, it took me only 47 hours to unthaw, but I had my pictures….and the memory of my adventures to last forever.

 Oh, the life of a VISTA is never dull, at least not in Eastern Montana!

Tina Kahrs
Montana No Kid Hungry-PRC AmeriCorps VISTA
Plentywood, MT