By Kristin Cates, Great Falls Tribune Staff Writer
Upset by the negative connotations national programs such as “Food Inc.” were making about agriculture and the cattle industry, the Montana Stockgrowers Association set out to tell its story in a new way and with the help of a city girl.
“Big Sky Boots: Working Seasons of a Montana Cowboy” has been published and features full-page photographs detailing many of Montana’s ranching families taken by Montana newcomer Lauren Chase.
“It’s been a long process, but I’m very excited about it,” said Chase, originally from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
The book is scheduled to be the first in a series of five that will highlight the different aspects of Montana’s many ranches, according to Carl Mattson, program developer with the Montana Stockgrowers Association.
While this book focuses on the men of the ranches and the many seasons of ranching — from calving to summer grazing to trailing and more, Mattson said the next book will focus on the women of the ranch, followed by the children and young animals, then the environment, and the fifth book will be determined at a later date.
Not only does the book feature Chase’s photography skills honed in journalism school at the University of Iowa, it also has QR codes on some of the pages that can be scanned on a smartphone and will link observers to the Montana Stockgrowers website, where they can watch video and see extended stories on the families profiled, according to Mattson.
The book is available for purchase online or in the Montana Stockgrowers Association office for $75. Mattson said they timed the release of the book around the holidays. He sees this being a good gift for someone who has moved away from the ranch and is interested in reminiscing.
“It’s ready to have some wrapping on it,” Mattson said. “We think this has great appeal to the extended families.”
Mattson said the Montana Stockgrowers Association originally hired Chase as an intern in the summer 2010, but soon realized that in order to tell the Montana ranching family story, they needed to hire her full time.
Using a grant from the MSA’s Research, Education and Endowment Foundation, along with sponsorship from a number of banks, the Stockgrowers were able to bring Chase back to Montana in February 2011 to get started on the project.
“She was a city girl able to mix with ranchers,” Mattson said. “She was comfortable sitting at their kitchen tables.”
Chase said her first visit to a ranch was just outside of Harrison during calving season. It was 20 degrees below zero and her eyes were watering because of the cold, which caused her eyelashes to freeze, and her camera lens also fogged up. But she took it all in stride.
“I thought it was an adventure,” she said.
Since her arrival she’s traveled 35,000 miles and visited ranches from Sidney to Chinook. She brought along with her not only a camera, but her phone to make videos, as well as a separate video camera so that the stories could also be captured for the Stockgrowers’ website as well.
“Sometimes I even had an audio recorder duct-taped around my arm,” Chase said.
She watched as the ranchers were perpetually busy checking on newborn calves or feeding the cattle. Most of the ranchers and ranches that appear in the book are members of the Montana Stockgrowers, but sometimes Chase said she would have to make a cold call to a ranch. She found most were willing, and if they weren’t, they took her over to their neighbor’s place to get photos. Chase said she averaged 300 to 800 photos per ranch.
“My goal is to educate as many people as possible about ranching and how beef is produced,” Chase said.
Reach Tribune Staff Writer Kristen Cates at 791-1463 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @GFTrib_KCates.