I’ve always been intrigued by Montana. In elementary school my family would make the trek from Austin, TX to Bozeman, MT to visit Jim Adams and his partner, Mary. Longtime friends of my dad, Jim and Mary would welcome us into their home nestled into the mountains outside of town during the blistering winter months. The memories I made there were countless. From learning how to ski on the slopes of Bridger Bowl, to finding out the hard way what happens when you scoot too far out on the ice of a not-so-frozen stream (disclaimer: you fall in and somehow don’t die of hypothermia). While experiencing the bliss of snowcapped mountains and the not so blissful feeling of a snowball getting stuffed down your pants is great, I was also introduced to an eclectic array of cuisines that expanded my palate. Some of these dishes included tender bison stew and juicy elk burgers, as well as a host of various dishes made from poultry raised by local Hutterite colonies. My dad and Jim would always rave over the quality of the meat that the Hutterite colonies produced which made them a staple of our visits. For a long time, I didn’t know much about the Hutterites, in fact, until this trip I knew very little of their history or lifestyle.
Hutterites are a religious group whose beliefs trace back to the Radical Reformation of the 16th century. Following a lifestyle based on humility and simplicity, their main trade is in the agricultural sector–farming and ranching. They also have a smattering of colonies across Montana, several of which have been along our route. On our travels we were given the opportunity to visit Springwater Colony outside of Harlowton. They have signs along the highway that boast fresh vegetables for sale, so we stopped by after a day spent touring Judith Gap Wind Farm in hopes of gathering some leafy greens for that night’s dinner. As we approached we were greeted by industrial style machinery and the strong musty smell one generally associates with livestock. Hutterites function as one economic entity, allowing them to spend the money made on top of the line farming equipment for their agricultural endeavors.
As we rode further into the colony, we came upon a school bus with a dozen young boys dressed in traditional garb clumped together. They greeted us in unison and directed us to a gentleman who kindly showed us to the produce they had for sale. After acquiring carrots, lettuce, and other fresh greens, we were offered a tour of the garden area. The young boys followed us around, giggling and joking with us. I felt some discomfort knowing that we were very untraditionally dressed in spandex and jerseys, but no one we met seemed offended or taken aback. After our tour of the gardens, another man offered to show us where they milked the cows.
By this point, we were the talk of the colony, groups of people coming to greet us, mainly men. We were invited to see the cows being mechanically milked and a gaggle of their babies that were only a few weeks old. Another Hutterite offered to send us home with a carton of eggs which we gladly accepted. Myself and my fellow bike pal, Morgan, followed the gentlemen to a building on the compound. We were led into a large room where the eggs are processed, cleaned, and inspected. The machinery was all very sterile and industrial. Before handing us our prize, our tour guide took us to a door that had warning signs not to trespass or allow visitors. He opened the door to a room filled with chickens in topless cages. I was informed that the room had 10,000 occupants.
It was very apparent that the Hutterites are immensely proud of the work they do and the efficiency with which they achieve their agricultural goals, yet what I saw was uncomfortable to say the least. My naivety had led me to believe that the Hutterites were in the business of small scale farming, instead I was struck by how much they appeared to be following a factory farming model.
The whole encounter was immensely fascinating and I am grateful to have been able to experience such a different way of living from my own. Yet, I am still unsure of what to make of the way in which the Hutterites go about their work. I felt blindsided and naive for not doing more research into their practices. All these years myself and many people I know have come to be under the impression that the Hutterites simpler way of living somehow made them unsusceptible to new age farming methods. Clearly, this sentiment was incorrect. The experience made me more aware of the importance of knowing where my food is coming from. The farming practices aside, it also opened my eyes to the alternative ways that certain societies function and how important it is not to judge those who live differently than myself.