Associate photo producer and photographer Tyler Metcalfe is joining the Millennial Trains Project, in which 25 bright young minds travel from Portland, Oregon, to New York, and share innovative ideas. Follow him on Instagram @tylermetcalfe as he rides across America documenting the project.
After the first leg of the train journey through the Pacific Northwest region of the United States, the Millennial Trains Project made its way east into Whitefish, Montana. Whitefish is home to a year-round population of 6,500 residents, but according to a local I chatted with at Montana Coffee Traders, this number can grow to nearly four times that size during Whitefish’s peak tourist seasons.
With a large ski resort just outside of town, and the western entrance to Glacier National Park at Whitefish’s doorstep, much of the infrastructure in the city seems to be built for and fueled by the tourism industry. In order to get an inside look at the local scene, however, Sarah Smith (whose work is focused on the future of food systems across America) led a few Millennial Trains Project participants to Spring Brook Ranch for a look at regional farming practices.
Located about 20 miles south of Whitefish, Spring Brook Ranch raises Tibetan yaks, Plains bison, horses, donkeys, goats, and chickens. Here, yaks are raised primarily for fur and breeding purposes, but the ranch’s bison are raised as free range, grass-fed livestock, with an emphasis on quality over quantity. When asked if Spring Brook Ranch was planning on expanding, or changing methods, rancher Larry Novak replied, “We aren’t interested in fixing something that isn’t broken.”
Novak was adamant about the fact that he and his partner had found a system that works, and after starting the trip with a few days of lectures on the status of social progress, scientific innovation, and economic growth, I was encouraged to see a situation that worked well and needed no change in order to continue functioning properly.
After departing Spring Brook Ranch, our group took the opportunity to explore the natural beauty of the area, and spent the afternoon stand-up paddleboarding on Flathead Lake. By sunset, we found ourselves picnicking on a grassy lawn with the rest of the group, while listening to a series of lectures by local sustainable farmers, including ex-professional snowboarder Alexis Waite.
As many nights on this trip did, our day in Whitefish ended back in the rail car, with participants engaged in conversation late into the night. Despite the lack of sleep, many participants rose the next morning at 5 a.m. to watch the sunrise over the mountains of Glacier National Park as the train continued east across the United States.