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History of Abundant Montana

Birthed out of the energy crisis of the 1970s on a front porch in downtown Billings, AERO (Alternative Energy Resources Organization) was created to spread the word about practical ways Montanans could implement renewable energy alternatives on their farms and ranches, and in their homes. At a time when the likelihood of eastern Montana becoming a “national sacrifice area” for domestic coal power production was high, AERO’s traveling “New Western Energy Show” and hands-on workshops around the state provided people with new options, real solutions, and optimism.

For decades, through community organization and education, AERO has provided space for people to share ideas, particularly ideas that might appear risky, and was instrumental in helping Montanans discover the value first in renewable energy and later, sustainable (now “regenerative”) agriculture. AERO’s annual meeting, Expo, became an opportunity to share information and ideas on issues that mattered to Montanans, with the goal of finding practical solutions that worked. In 2024, AERO will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

In 1974, when AERO formed, sustainable energy ideas like solar and wind power were considered novel and unorthodox. By 2000, AERO’s work had paved the way for the Judith Gap Wind Farm (Montana’s first major wind power project), the founding of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, a myriad of community and rural cooperative solar projects, and renewable energy legislation in Montana, among other projects. In 2007, the AERO Energy Task Force published Repowering Montana: A Blueprint for Montana’s Home-Grown Energy Self-Reliance. Their work showed that Montana could produce all its electrical needs with renewables, and all its agriculture fuel needs with MT-grown oilseed diesel, without compromising food production acreage.

In 1984, AERO members established the AERO Ag Task Force to address the growing interest of member farmers and ranchers in sustainable agriculture – farming and ranching without chemical inputs, in alignment with nature. They marketed this approach as, “enabling farmers to make better use of sunlight.”

This task force, in many ways, filled gaps universities and government departments didn’t, and built a path for the sustainable farming and healthy soil practices that Montana benefits from today, significantly influencing food and agriculture policy along the way. In the late 1990’s the Ag Task Force began exploring how to get this healthy, sustainably grown food to more Montanans, and Abundant Montana was born.

The first “Directory to Montana Food” produced by Abundant Montana in 1998 listed 38 food and farming businesses and 12 farmers markets, the total in the state at the time. It also included tips for chefs wanting to purchase direct from a farmer in the days before widespread email and internet; and ride shares for delivering food across the state in the years before our current in-state distribution networks. It was the precursor to what is now the “Local Food Guide.”

Today, Abundant Montana is a multi-media effort, building consumer demand, in-state market sales channels for Montana-based food and farming businesses, and community knowledge, resources, and networks so communities can design local food systems that work for them. The Find Food and Farms Map lists over 1,100 enterprises and 70 farmers markets, including a network of food and agriculture resources, coalitions, and trade organizations launched in the wake of the Ag Task Force’s efforts.

Abundant Montana’s expansion developed from community partner conversations and support in the wake of the pandemic-induced food system disruptions of 2020. Special thanks to Montana Farmers Union, Hopa Mountain, Mission West Community Development Partners, Community Food & Agriculture Coalition, Double SNAP Dollars, MT Food Bank Network, TEAM Nutrition Montana, Harvest of the Month, Land to Hand Montana, Timeless Seeds, Inc., Helping Hands, FAST Blackfeet, Oro & Plata Foundation, Open & Local, Helena Food Share, and Livingston Food Resource Center.

The first “Directory to Montana Food” produced by Abundant Montana in 1998 listed 38 food and farming businesses and 12 farmers markets, the total in the state at the time.

Ask any legacy AERO member the secret to AERO’s success and you are likely to hear one or more of the following as key ingredients:


  • Provide a welcoming non-partisan environment where risky, unorthodox ideas can be shared and explored.
  • Recognize that lasting change is progressive and incremental, and the best learning comes when those most invested in finding a solution teach each other.
  • Cherish the priceless value of in-person conversations for building community and lasting engagement.

Meet the Team!

Meet the employees and board members behind AERO/Abundant Montana.

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