This weekend’s annual meeting of Montana’s Alternative Energy Resources Organization gave members a chance to learn about sustainable agriculture and energy, catch up with friends and make apple cider with the assistance of a stair stepper.
Ann Wilsnack of Helena has been an AERO member for 31 years.
“So many of these people I’ve known for a long time, so I am meeting old and new friends,” she said.
One of her new friends, Morgen Hartford of Missoula, used his leg power to help Wilsnack make cider on Sunday morning. A contraption comprised of all scrap material was demonstrated at the Lewis and Clark County Fairgrounds. The apples were washed in sinks, and then fed into a press, which was run by the stair stepper.
“I’ve pressed apples before but not like this,” Hartford said.
“My glutes loved it,” he added.
Jeffrey Funk of Big Fork made the cider-making machine after he found antique presses unsatisfying. He decided to make his own nearly 100 percent from items he came across in garbage bins or a scrap yard.
“I wanted to require there be a number of people involved,” he said, adding that his creation has been used for a few community pressings of cider.
Members also had the chance to check out the state’s mobile chicken processing unit and munch on popcorn made with solar power.
Hartford had just signed up as a member on Sunday. He came as a presenter for 1,000 New Gardens.
“I was very inspired by what I saw this weekend,” he said.
“You can tell there is so much history between members,” Hartford added. “It’s a mix of social and work. They mix those two very well.”
Elsie Tuss, a Floweree farmer and rancher, said the 36th annual meeting was a hit.
“The AERO meeting is our No. 1 support group,” she said.
Tuss said a highlight was Saturday’s keynote speaker, Wes Jackson, who is one of the foremost figures in the sustainable agriculture movement and the founder of the Land Institute in Salina, Kan.