Environmental Studies, Sugar Beets 101
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.
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.