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Hays ranchers among finalists for MSU agritourism and sustainable agriculture program

From the MSU News Service

BOZEMAN — The Montana State University College of Agriculture has announced finalists including a ranchers from Hays for a new leadership program focused on sustainable agriculture and agritourism.

Liz and Toby Werk of Hays, who are exploring cultural agritourism, are among the finalists.

The Montana Agritourism Fellows Program will center on the goal of developing leaders to advance sustainable agritourism. The fellowship is designed to engage agricultural producers and train them in methods of communicating and promoting sustainable agriculture for farmers, ranchers, professionals and communities. It was funded by a grant from the Western Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education, or Western SARE, program. The inaugural cohort consists of 14 fellows including the Werks.

Agritourism links agricultural operations with tourism by welcoming visitors to farms and ranches for entertainment, recreation or education. Examples include organized tours, community supported agriculture programs, public education events and more. Organizers hope the program will promote a holistic approach to farming focused on profitability, land and natural resource stewardship, and improved quality of life for the producers as well as their communities.

“We are excited to engage with this outstanding cohort of agricultural professionals and producers over the next two years,” said Shannon Arnold, the program’s faculty lead and a professor in MSU’s Department of Agricultural and Technology Education. “The fellows program focuses on developing these leaders to promote, educate and build community awareness about the sustainable agritourism industry in Montana.”

The other fellows, listed with their city, occupation and the focus of their outreach efforts are:.

• Todd and Molly Barkley, Baker, owners of Barkley’s Home Grown LLC, exploring year-round greenhouse agriculture.

• Tana and Tienna Canen, Glendive, multi-generational ranchers exploring the Ranching for Profit sustainability program.

• Andy Fjeseth, Helena, Montana Department of Agriculture bureau chief, exploring agritourism development.

• Laura Garber, Hamilton, director of Cultivating Connections and owner of a diversified vegetable farming operation, exploring community agriculture education.

• Susan Joy, Helena, manager of the Made in Montana program, exploring agritourism development.

• Carissa McNamara, Plains, owner of Wild Horse Lavender Farm and ambassador for Northwest Farmers Union, exploring agritourism development.

• Tamara Robertson, Forsyth, diversified rancher and farm tour host, exploring sustainable ranch management practices.

• Haylie Shipp, Glasgow, rancher, exploring communications outreach and agritourism.

• Jon and Erin Turner, Missoula, owners of Turner Farms and hosts of outreach events, exploring community engagement and community-supported agriculture.

The inaugural group of fellows will attend four two-day seminars at various sustainable agritourism operations across Montana over the next two years, with the first to be held in Helena next week, Feb. 16-17. The second and third seminars will be hosted in central and eastern Montana at locations to be determined, and the fourth will be in Bozeman, where fellows will apply what they’ve learned to plan and host a statewide agritourism conference in 2024.

The seminars will consist of workshops, tours and networking opportunities exploring the facets of agritourism, including management, business, media relations, planning and communication. Fellows will also learn how to advocate for sustainable agritourism and conduct outreach events for industry promotion.  

The Western SARE organization is hosted by MSU through 2023. The faculty team on the project includes Arnold; Dustin Perry, head of the Department of Agricultural and Technology Education; Kim Woodring, Toole County Extension agent; and Beth Shirley, assistant professor in technical communication.


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