The Billings Outpost

75th may be one novel too many

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

daniels-loneriderI have nothing but respect for Bozeman author B.J. Daniels. Her newest western romantic suspense novel, “Lone Rider,” is her 75th book since 1995. Last year alone, Daniels published five novels.

As someone who often struggles to put out an 800-word newspaper article each week, I can’t help but be impressed by Daniels’ productivity.

However, if “Lone Rider” is any indication, Daniels should start focusing less on quantity and more on quality.

First, let’s consider its title. The lone cowboy mentioned in the title is one of the most overused clichés in western literature, but Daniels embraces it. This is indicative of her writing style in general. If you can think of a clichéd character or circumstance, you’ll likely find it in “Lone Rider.”

The first chapter is the biggest offender in this sense. For example, consider the book’s opening paragraph:

“The moment Jace Calder saw his sister’s face, he feared the worst. His heart sank. Emily, his troubled little sister, had been doing so well since she’d gotten her job at the Sarah Hamilton Foundation in Big Timber, Montana.”

The “troubled little sister” cliché is just as old as the “lone cowboy” and Daniels utilizes it just three lines into the book. By the end of this first chapter, we’ve also been introduced to the sheltered daughter of a senator (Bo Hamilton) and the rugged cowboy who broke her heart (Jace Calder).

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:19

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Mystery a tasty treat

By STEPHEN DOW - For The Outpost

ButterOffDeadWriting mysteries can be a difficult task. On one hand, readers expect these novels to have a certain familiar formula. However, authors who follow the formula too closely run the risk of creating something too familiar. With “Butter Off Dead,” the third book in her “Food Lover’s Village Mystery” series, Big Fork-based author Leslie Budewitz proves that she is more than capable of walking that fine line.

For those unfamiliar with the “Food Lovers” series, it takes place in Jewel Bay, Mont. – a town with more than a few passing similarities to Budewitz’s hometown. The heroine is Erin Murphy, a former Seattle resident who returns home to help her mother run the family Mercantile. In addition to running the shop, Erin also unofficially works to solve the surprisingly large number of murders that take place in her small town.

In this book, the case revolves around the murder of Christine – the ex-girlfriend of Erin’s brother Nick and the organizer of the First Annual Food Lover’s Film Festival. As Erin probes into the death, she discovers that she may not have known her family and neighbors as well as she first thought.

Last March, I reviewed “Assault and Pepper,” another of Budewitz’s novels. In many ways, “Butter Off Dead” feels very similar to that book. Both have a heroine juggling her work life and crime solving. Both take place in a small, tightly knit community. Both feature groan-worthy puns in their titles. Budewitz’s love for food is present in both stories and is seen here through the paragraphs describing the food sold in the Mercantile.

Despite this, “Butter Off Dead” never feels like a retread. The character development is top notch, and Erin is a truly likable heroine. Meanwhile, supporting characters such as Erin’s mother, nephew and pet cats provide solid comic relief.

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:14

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MSU professor pens book on American West


BOZEMAN – A Montana State University professor who gained new insights about the West by driving more than 30,000 miles and visiting every county in 11 states has written one of the latest books in a long-running environmental series.

Cultural geographer William Wyckoff said he wrote “How to Read the American West: A Field Guide” to dispel misconceptions about the West, give Americans a more diverse picture of the West and remind Westerners why they chose to live there.

Cowboys and saloons are still a part of the American West, but today’s West is one of the most culturally diverse areas of the country, Wyckoff said. Latinos now make up almost one-third of its population. The largest Vietnamese shopping mall in the United States is in the West. Las Vegas and snowbird settlements are as much a part of the modern West as sagebrush and dude ranches.

For his sixth book overall and his second book in the Weyerhaeuser Environmental Books series, Wyckoff selected 100 cultural features that shape the Western landscape. He chose them arbitrarily, Wyckoff said, then placed them into categories. Instead of focusing on the biggest canyons, the tallest waterfalls and famous tourist sites, he looked for more ordinary features that said something about the West today.

Last Updated on Thursday, 20 August 2015 21:08

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‘Missoula’: Rape in a very small place

“Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town,” by Jon Krakauer. Doubleday. 367 pages, hardbound. $28.95.

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

book-missoulaThe most notorious thing about Jon Krakauer’s latest book of investigative reporting is the title. Even Mr. Krakauer acknowledges that despite a recent spate of publicized cases, Missoula is no hotbed of rape.

Missoula’s rate of sexual assault is unexceptional, and the cases Mr. Krakauer writes about are, as he readily asserts, typical of sexual assault cases in America: They often involve people who know each other, they are difficult to prosecute, and they leave lasting scars on both the perpetrator and the victim.

This is not a fun read. Unless you are into torture porn, you are likely to find Mr. Krakauer’s repeated and detailed accounts of rape cases disturbing and depressing.

Moreover, little is resolved. Mr. Krakauer writes in an author’s note that “This book is an effort to understand what deters so many rape victims from going to the police, and to comprehend the repercussions of sexual assault from the perspective of those who have been victimized.”

He struggles mightily to deliver on that mission statement, but this reader was left as mystified as ever about these critical points. The book leaves one saddened and disturbed but unenlightened.

None of that is meant as a criticism of Mr. Krakauer. This is complicated stuff, and if attention to detail was all it took to unravel it, then “Missoula” would be a priceless contribution to understanding sexual assault in 21st century America.

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:01

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Other books of note

By DAVID CRISP - The Billings Outpost

Not all of the books that cross our desk here at the Outpost deserve a full review. And some that do deserve a full review somehow slip through the cracks and never get one, either because they arrive at the wrong time or because we run out of time to read them. This column provides notes about some of those books:

• “High and Inside,” by Russell Rowland. Bangtail Press. This novel actually came out in 2013, but I got my hands on a copy only recently, courtesy of Mr. Rowland himself. I was a great admirer of his first novel, “In Open Spaces,” which seemed to me about as fine a coming-of-age book as I have read.

There is much to admire, too, in “High and Inside,” the story of a washed-up baseball player who returns to Montana to try to make something of what’s left of his life. It wasn’t as gripping as the first book – maybe it needed more baseball – but it made for a good summer read.

• “Last Stand: Ted Turner’s Quest to Save a Troubled Planet,” by Todd Wilkinson. Lyons Press. Here’s another 2013 book that I also just recently obtained from the author himself.

I haven’t had time to read the book yet, but I know Todd (whose environmental column used to appear in the Outpost). He is a solid, no-nonsense reporter whose love for the natural world is exceeded only by his love for sound journalistic standards.

Perhaps Ted Turner’s foreword says it best: “Over many years, I’ve given probably thousands of interviews. My first impression of Todd Wilkinson when he arrived on my ranch doorstep in Montana was that he’d probably be just another reporter looking for just another superficial story to tell.

“I came to discover that’s not how he works. He’s as tenacious as I am.”

• “Laurel,” by Ann Kooistra-Manning, and “Rock Creek Valley,” by Bob Wallace and the Carbon County Historical Society. These are two new entries in the Images of America series from Arcadia Publishing. Like other books in the series, these consist mostly of black-and-white photos from the early days. Many of the pictures are fairly mundane shots of buildings and early residents that primarily are of interest to people who have lived in those areas. Others, such as the photo of Elroy Gilles (father of Outpost correspondent T.J. Gilles) on the rearing horse that he rode from Laurel to the 1940 New York World’s Fair, are just priceless.

• “Montana State Parks: Complete Guide and Travel Companion,” by Erin Madison and Kristen Inbody. Riverbend Publishing. Two staffers at the Great Falls Tribune put together this guide, which selects a few high points in each portion of the state and puts together a few photos, a brief description of each, a map and tourist information.

Most of the selections are predictable: This area, for example, is singled out for Plenty Coups State Park, Pictograph Caves and Makoshika, all high on anybody’s tourist list for this part of the state.

Other choices are a bit surprising. Also selected are the Rosebud Battlefield and Piroque Island near Miles City, a state park I had never heard of until we visited last summer. As the guide warns, the water was too high to get the island itself.

This is a useful book for newcomers to Montana, and pretty handy even for those of us who have been here for a couple of decades.

Last Updated on Saturday, 22 August 2015 21:46

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MontanaFair offers new rides


Mighty Thomas Carnival brings the midway and something new to the 2015 MontanaFair in Billings Aug. 7-15. This traveling carnival will present rides, games and carnival treats at MontanaFair for the 36th straight year.

Founded in 1928 in Lennox, S.D., by Art B. Thomas, the show now winters near Austin, Texas, and is providing its 88th season for fair-goers, including 46 events in 11 states.

A brand new family roller coaster will be seen on the MontanaFair midway this year. The “Wacky Cowboy” will be part of the Mighty Thomas Carnival at MontanaFair.

Setting on a footprint 92 feet wide and 42 feet deep, the track rises to a height of 22 feet. The Wacky Cowboy was manufactured by Fajume in San Salvador, El Salvador.

The new Cliffhanger amusement ride with spectacular lighting is reintroduced to the Thomas Carnival midway this year. The Cliffhanger is the only ride that lets customers fly through the air like Superman. 

Other featured attractions on the Thomas Carnival midway this year at the fair:

Monster Trucks: Wisdom Rides of Colorado built this new children’s ride, featuring realistic monster trucks with a rear-wheel motion. It appeared for the first time in Billings at the 2015 MontanaFair. Each car has sound effects - pickup truck engine sounds. And each rider has a steering wheel - adults may accompany youngsters.

Martian Maze: Adorable Martians are pictured on the scenery of the Martian Maze. Young children climb ladders, cross bridges, slide down slides, and walk through a rotating barrel. Martian Maze is found in the MontanaFair kiddie ride park, a family area with trees and shade and benches and picnic tables.  

Frog Hopper: Another popular youth ride introduced in 2012, this one with a hopping motion, made by Utah’s S&S Sports. Adults may ride with the youngsters on the Frog Hopper, as well. 

There will be two “extreme” riding attractions at the fair this year: The Speed and the Ejection Seat. The Speed was brand new in 2012, and it’s huge and sensational.

Pricing on these two attractions is separate from the normal carnival tickets and wristbands.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:54

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Rodeo draws top cowboys

The Yellowstone River Roundup PRCA Rodeo was a record setter in 2014 with 536 cowboys riding and over 12,000 spectators watching the three day event at MontanaFair.

The 2015 version of the rodeo has blasted that record out of the water with a record 586 entries and an even bigger purse.

Among the best cowboys in the world coming to MontanaFair includes local favorite Clay Tryan, currently No. 1 in the world in Team Roping Headers.  12 Time World Champion Trevor Brazile is back to compete again this year on Thursday night and during slack on Friday.

The Yellowstone River Roundup is drawing the best in the world again this year. Almost all of the top 10 team ropers (headers and heelers) will be in Billings. 

Other top flight competitors include

• 4 of the top 5 in All Around Cowboy

• 4 of the top 5 Steer Ropers in the world

• 5 of the top 10 bull riders

• 7 of the top 10 steer wrestlers

• 7 of the top 10 in tie down.

Clay Tryan is not the only Tryan coming to rodeo either.  You’ll find Billings’ Travis Tryan (No. 19 in team roping headers); Brady Tryan of Huntley (No. 39 in the world in team roping headers); and Chase Tryan of Helena (No. 40 in team roping heelers)

With so many cowboys, slack will be even busier this year. Slack gives fairgoers a chance to watch the rodeo action for the cost of a gate admission.

 but it helps getting all these cowboys through their runs. With big rodeos like the Yellowstone River Roundup, there are more cowboys entered than slots for them to compete.

When this happens, cowboys who are not scheduled to compete in one of the regular performances post their times or score during slack, which will be the morning of the each day’s rodeo.

Scores and times posted during slack count just like those posted during the regular performance.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:53

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McBride plays Sunday

MontanaFair turns to country music on Sunday, Aug. 9, with one of the most powerful and recognized female voices in the history of the genre.

Martina McBride has been awarded 14 Gold Records, nine Platinum honors, three Double Platinum Records and two Triple Platinum awards and sold over 18 million units. The Country Music Association named her its Female Vocalist of the Year four times. The Academy of Country Music presented her with its Top Female honor three times. The Recording Academy has nominated her for 14 Grammy Awards.

Now that’s a huge list of accomplishments.

McBride grew up singing country music in rural Kansas, accompanied by her father’s band. She went off to the big city of Wichita, then married John McBride in 1988. The couple moved to Nashville in 1990. He became the city’s most successful and respected recording studio owner. She became a country star.

She first made the country charts in 1992. Her hit records since then have included such enduring classics as “Wild Angels,” “Safe in the Arms of Love,” “Wrong Again,” “Blessed,” “My Baby Loves Me,” “Life #9,” “Love’s the Only House,” “Whatever You Say,” “Where Would You Be,” “In My Daughter’s Eyes,” “When God Fearin’ Women Get the Blues” and “A Broken Wing.”

To date, she has had 20 top-10 hits and six No. 1 smashes. As a result, Martina McBride is ranked as the most played woman vocalist on country radio between 1999 and 2010.

McBride will headline the Sunday show at Rimrock Auto Arena on Aug. 9.  It’s her first trip back to Billings since a performance in 2006.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:51

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Lynyrd Skynyrd to play

Legendary rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd returns with a fiery slice of Southern style guitar rock heaven in “Last of a Dyin’ Breed,” their newest release on Roadrunner/Loud & Proud Records.

“For me this is one of the happiest and most fun albums I’ve ever done,” says founding member Gary Rossington. “We didn’t have a lot of problems going on; it was just fun goin’ to work every day.”

Led by core members Gary Rossington (guitar), Johnny Van Zant (vocals) and Rickey Medlock (guitar), Skynyrd continues to build on the legacy that began over 35 years ago in Jacksonville, Fla.

In a tragic tale oft-told, the Skynyrd story could have ended in a Mississippi swamp with the 1977 plane crash that killed three band members, including Ronnie Van Zant and Steve Gaines. Since then, the band has lost vital players in Billy Powell, Ean Evans, Allen Collins, Leon Wilkeson and Hughie Thomasson. The breed may be nearing extinction but Skynyrd is very much alive and ready to throw down.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is a band of today, carrying a steely mantle forged in the sweaty confines of the Hell House in Jacksonville decades earlier. There’s a reason this is one of the most beloved bands of all time.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is: Gary Rossington, guitar; Johnny Van Zant, vocals; Rickey Medlock, guitar; Mark “Sparky” Matejka, guitar; Michael Cartellone, drums; Johnny Colt, bass; Peter Keys, keyboards; and Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase, Honkettes backing vocals.

Iconic rock band Blue Oyster Cult will start the rockin’ Saturday night at 7 p.m.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:51

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Taste of Fair new this year

If it smells good it’s got to taste delicious!  What will you taste? Juicy, salty, sweet, sour, greasy, savory, buttery, crispy, tangy, smoky, bitter, fruity, spicy, hot, or cold?

One of the newest ways to experience all the fair food you can eat is MontanaFair’s Taste of the Fair.  

This exciting new event is Wednesday, Aug. 12 at MontanaFair. For only 100 pennies at each concessionaire, ($1) you can sample the best fair food and then get even more of your favorites. You can choose from Sushi, Chinese, Mexican, things on Sticks, deep fried whatever, Cowpies, and Corn Dogs along with yummy barbecue from competitors at the KCBS sanctioned, Montana State BarBQ Championship. Plus there’s a sampling of beers from the Budweiser Brewmaster Tour in Rimrock Auto Arena. Visit for a map of what’s available or pick up a map/brochure on Taste day.

Tastings will be in the food court area behind the Grandstands and in Rimrock Auto Arena from 4–8 p.m.

From Aug. 10-14, you can enter MontanaFair at lunch time and get your fair admission for free.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:49

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Awolnation aims for hit

Awolnation plays Friday at MontanaFair.
By ALAN SCULLEY - Last Word Features

Aaron Bruno may have had major success with “Megalithic Symphony,” his first album under the band name Awolnation. That 2011 release spent 111 weeks on the “Billboard” magazine Top 200 album chart and its hit single, “Sail,” hit nearly six million in sales while becoming the second longest charting song on “Billboard’s” all-genre Hot 100 singles chart.

But even though he felt he had proven himself with “Megalithic Symphony,” that didn’t stop Bruno from feeling he still had some doubters to deal with when he went to work on the newly released Awolnation follow-up album, “Run.”

“I’ve always worked best when I’ve had sort of an imaginary or sometimes real enemy, almost,” Bruno said in a recent phone interview. “Music to me is rebellious and has always been a flag to carry for some sort of cause. And that could be just socially, that could be politically.  That could be on a relationship basis, and all of the above. So for me, I kind of knew that there were going to be a lot of people who didn’t think I could possibly repeat the same kind of success. So that was a fun little chip on my shoulder that I got to tap into.

“There are plenty of critics that overlooked the first record,” he added. “They didn’t know that it even happened. Then all of a sudden ‘Sail’ was this massive success, so of course they were going to want to hate on me and say OK, this guy can’t do this again.”

Bruno, though, took his success as a license to challenge himself musically, and not only did he believe he could avoid a sophomore slip-up, he could push his music well beyond the musical template created with “Megalithic Symphony.”

“I think the success of the first record gave me a lot of confidence that people could relate to what a lot of people probably thought was insane in the first record. So it gave me artistic freedom to push myself even further after seeing what really translated and reacted live, and obviously commercially as well,” Bruno said. “(It) certainly gave me a newfound confidence to make the sophomore freak out record that I’ve always wanted to make. In fact, I’ve been looking forward to having this opportunity my whole career, but it just never happened.

When this opportunity presented itself, I was very ready to do it. It was difficult, but a wonderful challenge that I took head on and I’m extremely proud.”

As Bruno’s last comment suggests, he’s not exactly a newcomer to the music business.

In a career that stretches back some 15 years, he had been a key member of two major label bands – Home Town Hero and Under The Influence Of Giants – that seemed positioned to make an impact on the music scene.

It didn’t happen. Home Town Hero, which was signed to the Warner Bros.-affiliated Maverick Records (owned by Madonna), had some modest success with its 2002 self-titled debut, but broke up shortly before the release of its second album, 2004’s “Bitch City.”

Bruno and Hometown Hero bandmate Drew Stewart then formed Under The Influence Of Giants and landed a deal with Island Records. But the group’s 2006 self-titled debut album stiffed and the band ended.

Bruno began developing the Awolnation sound not long after the demise of Under The Influence Of Giants. A big break came in 2009 when Red Bull Records, which had received a recording of a few of Bruno’s new songs, offered to let him use its Los Angeles studio for free to do further recording. After hearing songs Bruno recorded then, Red Bull signed Bruno (as Awolnation), and he went to work in earnest on “Megalithic Symphony,” which was released in March 2011.

Like “Megalithic Symphony,” the “Run” album was entirely written, played and produced by Bruno working in his home studio. He said he realizes some people may see this as an egotistical – maybe even self-indulgent – way to make music, but he said that’s not what attracts him to working this way in the studio.

“I think the satisfaction comes in efficiency for me,” Bruno said. “It’s that, when I have an idea, I can execute that idea right now instead of having to wait or rely on someone else. I think that’s the most satisfying quality to doing it the way I did, and being able to better myself as a songwriter and producer or whatever it is I’m doing that day and not have to rely on other human beings because, I mean, no one else is ever going to care about a song that you wrote and you’re going to perform as much as you do. I think that’s the main point.”

The music he created on “Run” retains the keyboard/electronics-based sound of “Megalithic Symphony,” with new songs like  “Windows,” “Woman Woman” and “I Am,” combining the silky synthesizer/electronic tones, bouncy danceable beats and classic pop hooks that characterized much of the first album.  Meanwhile the frenetic feel of “Burn It Down” and “Soul Wars” (from “Megalithic Symphony”) returns on the new song “Kookseverywhere!!!”

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:48

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Alligators featured at fair

From deep in the swamps of Florida to the midway at MontanaFair comes the “Kachunga and the Alligator” show. While alligators are clearly not native to Montana, the show is designed as a public awareness campaign and to help students learn about different creatures.

“We are excited to have the show at MontanaFair this year, “ said Bill Dutcher, MontanaFair General Manager. “The show creates a lot of excitement.” The Detroit News called the show “the No. 1 reason to visit the Michigan State Fair.”

Kachunga is a real American bushman who steps into the wet domain of the alligator daily. Kachunga grabs this alligator with his bare hands. This will be your chance to see a real gator up close. 

The show will be at Montana Park near Kids World at MontanaFair. The show is presented by Wildlife Entertainment and Education.

Last Updated on Thursday, 06 August 2015 20:45

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Entrepreneurs finding profit in wasted food


Photo courtesy of Imperfect. These heads of cauliflower were rejected because of minor splitting between the florets.    Ron Clark is no stranger to food waste. After more than 20 years of working to supply fresh produce to California’s food banks, he knows every point along the route from farm to table where produce leaves the human food chain to be ploughed under, composted, fed to animals or buried in a landfill.

Most of this food is healthy and delicious, and is discarded for cosmetic reasons. Clark was filling 60-80 truckloads a week with food he recovered from farmers and packers, bringing 125 million pounds of produce to hungry food bank clients, by the time he left the food bank system.

Today he looks on in awe at a new wave of innovators looking to tackle the problem of food waste. Most of them are 20-somethings fresh out of college, he told me. And they’re using business startups, rather than nonprofits, to get it done.

An estimated 40 percent of all food grown never gets eaten by humans, and hunger isn’t the only consequence. Wasted food also represents wasted water, and contributes to global warming, thanks to the methane produced when it rots, anaerobically, in the landfill.

But the movement to stop food waste is booming. In 2014, one of the France’s largest food retailers, Intermarche, began selling “inglorious,” aka cosmetically challenged, produce at a discount. Store traffic increased 24 percent.

In mid-July a petition was initiated at calling on Wal-Mart and Whole Foods to follow Intermarche’s lead. The petition was put forth by Jordan Figueiredo of Figueiredo, whose day job as a municipal solid waste manager in the Bay Area, is an anomaly in the movement, both because of his advanced age – 36 - and because his organization is a nonprofit.

Most of the newer efforts to end food waste are just as mission-driven as a food bank, or, but are sustained by sales of recovered produce, and products made from it, rather than grants and donations. And they are run by kids.

“It really is a millennial movement,” Clark told me. “It’s refreshing to see a whole generation of people so passionate and excited about this issue.” He’s also impressed by their ability to bring in dollars from sales and investors. “They’re money magnets,” Clark says.

“They aren’t interested in old organizations, which tend to be hierarchical and structured, like corporations. The energy in the new generation doesn’t mix with that culture. They’re going after the food waste issue in different ways, and for slightly different reasons. The millennials certainly care deeply about hunger, but are primarily concerned with saving the planet.”

Wasted food is responsible for about 45 trillion gallons of wasted water, according to 22-year-old Evan Lutz, chief executive officer of Hungry Harvest in Baltimore. Hungry Harvest recovers surplus produce from farms and wholesalers, and sells it in CSA-style boxes at a steep discount to what non-cosmetically-challenged produce would cost. For each box sold, a healthy meal is donated to someone in need. Lutz sees his work as inevitable, given the profoundly unsustainable situation.

“Our society can’t sustain itself when 6 billion pounds of produce is wasted annually, while 51 million Americans are food-insecure,” he told me.

Despite being mission-driven, Lutz has no reservations about turning a profit on his work.

“We are for-profit so we can scale in a sustainable way.” A year into the project, Hungry Harvest is comfortably afloat. It recently secured some investments that “exceeded our expectations,” Lutz says.

On the other coast, a Bay Area startup called Revive Foods began making jam out of recovered produce about a year ago. Co-founder Zoe Wong came from a nonprofit background, where, she says, “I felt frustrated constantly having to rely on donations in the nonprofit world, and wanted to have the ability to be financially sustainable so I could get stuff done.”

The business was going well, but she and co-founder Kay Feker weren’t satisfied.

“We realized that remaining a consumer product food business was going to be tough to scale from an impact perspective,” Wong told me. So they “pivoted,” changing the focus to selling recovered produce to food businesses. She says doing so will allow them to divert “... so much more produce from going to waste streams.”

In their new model, recovered produce will be sorted and stabilized-for example by freezing-for sale to food businesses like caterers, juicers, and restaurants.

One yet-unnamed “major baby food company,” she told me, is “super interested in the possibility of building out a dedicated product line made from our recovered produce.”

Wong and Feker share space with another Oakland-based startup called Imperfect, which aims to create the first national brand of cosmetically challenged produce. A major step in that direction was recently taken in the form of a pilot project called Real Good. On July 11, ten outlets of the Sacramento-based supermarket chain Raley’s began selling “ugly” produce at a discount. If it goes well, they hope to expand the program to all 127 Raley’s stores, Imperfect co-founder and CEO Ben Simon explained. Ultimately, they want their Imperfect produce in every store, nationwide.

Simon had co-founded Hungry Harvest with Lutz before moving west to pursue his national vision. And like Hungry Harvest, Imperfect also operates a CSA-style box delivery service, delivering throughout the Bay Area.

One of the first steps Simon took in creating Imperfect was to bring in Ron Clark, the former food bank supplier. Clark is THE go-to guy for sourcing wasted food in California, Simon told me. The partnership started with a three-day tour of various “sheds,” as produce packing-houses are called, in the heart of California’s Central Valley. Clark’s connections quickly proved a priceless commodity.

“Imperfect is a great combination,” Clark told me. “A group of bright, ambitious, energetic millennials, and the old guy here who is well-connected to the supply side.”

While these startups are riding a wave of success, Wong of Revive says “We will only feel successful if ‘surplus food’ is no longer a term, because we’ve reached that level of efficiency. Given how much is being wasted out there, I don’t think we will hit that point any time soon.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:45

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Montana natives raise $285,000

MSU photo by Kelly Gorham Matt and Michelle Hertel pose with the prototype of the desktop computer-driven mill that is the inspiration for their startup company Pocket NC.
MSU News Service

BOZEMAN – A Montana State University alumna and her husband are preparing for the next step with their startup company, Pocket NC, after they successfully closed out a Kickstarter campaign last week, out-raising their goal by more than $285,000.

“It’s been a wild ride,” said Michelle Hertel, who graduated from MSU with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering in 2010. “We’ve been in the design and prototype configuration stage for over four years. So we are very excited that we’re going to get into the production phase.”

After launching Pocket NC’s Kickstarter this month with a goal of raising $70,000, Michelle and Matt Hertel attracted 280 backers pledging more than $355,000 in support for their project.

They blew past their fundraising goal in the first hour, Michelle said.

The Pocket NC product – a small, tabletop computer-driven mill with five-axis movement and capable of fabricating small items from aluminum and other soft materials – began as a project for Matt in the couple’s backyard shed at their home in the Seattle area. The Hertels, who were both raised in Montana, moved to Washington when Michelle got a job with Boeing after graduation. Matt, who also attended MSU and then earned an associate’s degree in machining from Helena College-UM, was working in the aerospace industry as a machinist.

That’s really why he got interested in building a small desktop computer numerically controlled (CNC) mill, Michelle said. A look at the market revealed that small mills intended for the hobbyist typically did not have the control and precision of larger, professional-grade mills.

They were also priced beyond the reach of most individuals.

So Matt went to work on developing an affordable state-of-the-art tabletop mill made from better components than the typical hobbyist machine.

“He’s kind of the creative genius behind this project,” Michelle added.

Once they had a working prototype, the couple entered the World Maker Faire in New York. At that event, which drew some 100,000 people, Michelle said they received some very positive feedback on their project.

That kind of response gave them the confidence to quit their day jobs and move back to Montana, moving into Matt’s parent’s basement.

Near the top of their entrepreneurial to-do list was visit the Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU for support to help get their idea off the ground. The LaunchPad, a campus entrepreneurship program funded by the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, offers advising services to startups and budding entrepreneurs.

“We’d been back less than two months when we visited the LaunchPad,” Michelle said. “They really helped us a lot with our financial planning, and by connecting us with an adviser who could help verify that the price point that we wanted to sell at wasn’t crazy.”

The LaunchPad also advised the Hertels about their approach to a Kickstarter campaign. Audrey Wooding, deputy director of Blackstone LaunchPad at MSU, said the Hertels did their homework and took advantage of the expertise and networking that the MSU community and the LaunchPad have to offer.

“When you look at the Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship and other people connected with MSU and Bozeman, there is a great community of entrepreneurs,” Wooding said. “These are people who are happy to share their knowledge and show their support for others that are on that (startup) journey as well.”

Given their Kickstarter success, the Hertels provide an excellent case study to other would-be entrepreneurs, Wooding added.

“We’ve seen other startups reach their Kickstarter goals, but (the Hertels) have been the most successful in terms of a Kickstarter campaign,” Wooding said. “They just blew it out of the water.”

That success came in pledges to donate anywhere from $3,500 to $5, and it sets up the next step – the production of a limited run (now sold out) of 100 machines. At a pledge of $3,500, backers have pre-ordered one of the Pocket NC machines.

With suppliers lined up and materials stacked in their garage – they’ve moved out of the basement and into their own place – Michelle Hertel said they are feeling optimistic that they will meet their goal of shipping the last of the Pocket NC’s orders by March.

“It’s pretty exciting to have had this overwhelmingly positive response,” she said. “We’ve moved from the shed to the basement to the garage. And now we’re going to begin making our product.”

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:40

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Leadership Montana picks class

Leadership Montana has announced the selection of 44 community, business, education, healthcare, nonprofit and government leaders from across the state for the Class of 2016. They make up the 12th class in the program.

Leadership Montana presents an annual seven-session program of leadership development, education about issues facing Montana today, and opportunities for networking and collaboration. This year’s class will begin in September 2015 at Big Sky for the orientation and retreat and conclude with graduation in Billings in April 2016. Other program sites this year will include Pablo, Whitefish, Livingston, Bozeman, Helena, White Sulphur Springs, Great Falls and Glasgow.

To date, there are more than 460 graduates of the program representing more than 50 communities across the state.

Here are Billings members of the Leadership Montana Class of 2016: Heidi Duncan, Billings Clinic; Scot Gudger, St. Vincent Healthcare; Eric Halvorsen, Center for Children and Families; Lisa Jensen, D. A. Davidson; Steve Knudson, Stifel Financial; Shawneal Krauszer, Krauszer Funeral Solutions; Toni Schneider, CTA Architects; Scott Sehnert, Rocky Mountain Bank; and Kirk Spalding, Sanderson Stewart.

Last Updated on Thursday, 30 July 2015 13:39

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