Thursday, Apr. 30th, 2020

MontanaPBS to livestream final COVID-19 special at 7 p.m. April 30

 MontanaPBS will livestream the sixth and final installment of a broadcast special, “Answering Questions About Coronavirus,” at 7 p.m. Thursday, April 30. The program will be available to view on-air, online at and on the MontanaPBS Facebook page.

During the special program, host John Twiggs will talk via video conference with Dr. Greg Holzman, the state medical officer; Montana Army National Guard Maj. Gen. Matthew Quinn, head of the governor’s Coronavirus Task Force; and Patrick Barkey, director of the Bureau of Business and Economic Research at the University of Montana. Twiggs will also interview Gov. Steve Bullock.

In his stay-at-home directive, Bullock included outdoor activities as “essential” – and Montanans listened. While national parks remain closed, Montana state parks are seeing a 60% visitor increase. With state campgrounds set to open Friday, MontanaPBS’ Breanna McCabe will report on what park visitors can expect in the weeks ahead.

Meanwhile, salons, restaurants and churches from across the state are navigating a phased reopening plan, but some may wonder what that means for each entity individually. MontanaPBS news and public affairs producer Jackie Coffin will check in with local businesses to see how they are planning to reopen, or remain closed, in light of the new directives.

Phone operators will take audience questions at 1-888-828-5876. Viewers can also submit questions via Facebook by following MontanaPBS or emailing

The broadcast is anticipated to last 60 minutes. Additional resources, web links and previous episodes are available at

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MSU researcher examines animal origins of COVID-19

For years, Montana State University researcher Raina Plowright’s work has studied bats and the viruses they carry and spread. Now, with the emergence of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Plowright’s research is timelier than ever.

Plowright said the virus that causes COVID-19, called SARS-CoV-2, originated in bats and is the third coronavirus to move from bats to humans in two decades. She and collaborators in Australia, Bangladesh, Ghana and Madagascar are researching how to prevent the spread of other viruses from animals to humans — a process known as spillover. That work begins by understanding how viruses exist in bats and how widespread they are among bats in various locations.

“Thankfully, we’ve collected a huge dataset over space and time in bat populations in multiple countries,” said Plowright, an assistant professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in MSU’s College of Agriculture and principal investigator in the Bozeman Disease Ecology Lab. “Now, we can screen our samples for coronaviruses and other viruses that may interact with coronaviruses.” 

Plowright’s work has also examined Hendra virus and Nipah virus, both of which can also be carried by bats, leading to the extensive collection of samples that can also be used in the new research. She said it’s unknown whether SARS-CoV-2 spread directly from bats to humans or whether it first infected an intermediary species. The researchers in her lab will screen those existing samples to see how many contain coronaviruses and where those samples were collected. That may offer insight into how SARS-CoV-2 made its way into humans.

“Coronaviruses are well known for their ability to recombine parts of their genomes when two viruses infect cells in the same animal. So, it could have had a bit of a genetic mix-up in a different host,” she said. “We’re working to understand coronaviruses in bats as well as looking of the role of bats in not just this, but also future spillovers.”

In addition to analyzing the samples they already have, Plowright and her team are moving forward with research to help Bozeman, Gallatin County and the state of Montana respond to the ongoing pandemic. Work in the state includes research with Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Hamilton to examine aerosol transmission of the virus and preventive measures; monitoring the spread of COVID-19 in Montana’s communities; and creating predictive computer models.

“We are working with local epidemiologists and other researchers here at MSU to provide forecasts to the community on when to expect peaks, the capacity of local ICUs and so on,” she said. The hope with predictive modeling is to develop a toolkit for reopening local, state and national economies and allowing individuals to return to workplaces.

The more information governments have on how the virus spreads and the potential ramifications of reopening, the more they can prevent future spikes in infection and death, said Plowright, something that is true the world over. An international graduate student and postdoctoral fellow are also helping efforts in their home countries of Chile and Uruguay, monitoring the progress of their outbreaks and aiding in the exchange of scientific information to help local pandemic response teams.

“I have a lab full of brilliant young disease ecologists,” she said. “These are young people with great expertise and advanced degrees in public health and disease ecology. They have found themselves in a real-time response to a real-life pandemic.”

With new discoveries still being made as scientists examine SARS-CoV-2 and a wealth of information available to the public, Plowright’s students and fellow researchers have also created a resource to interpret cutting-edge information so that it can be understood by everyone. They created the Disease Ecology Lab COVID-19 Blog, which answers common questions related to the novel coronavirus and provides understandable summaries of new scientific and medical discoveries. As the world has shifted into high gear to understand COVID-19, Plowright said it is critical that each individual does what they can to protect their community.

“Few groups can study bats and understand the dynamics of these infections in bat populations,” she said. “Our work is to understand how these pathogens spill over and how we can prevent future pandemics is unique. But in terms of responding to the current pandemic, we are doing the same thing that many people around the world are doing, right? We’re trying to do our very best for our community, protect people who are vulnerable and reduce the number of people who are sick and who die from this disease.”

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Wednesday, Apr. 29th, 2020

GVLT purchases property in West Bridgers to protect trail and habitat

Earlier in April, Gallatin Valley Land Trust (GVLT) completed an exciting new project that combined trails, conservation, and access to public lands for our bustling community. With the help of several diverse community partners, GVLT purchased a 160-acre property in Middle Cottonwood Canyon from the Skogen family. By purchasing the property, GVLT has permanently protected the trail corridor and surrounding wildlife habitat from development forever. The scenic property is located in the West Bridger Mountains, approximately six miles northeast of Bozeman. The entire parcel is mapped as critical winter range for elk and mule deer by Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, and features diverse wildlife habitat. The property also contains the popular Middle Cottonwood Trail which crosses the property for a half-mile. Purchasing the property secures perpetual public access to the trail and surrounding public lands, and will provide new hunting and recreational activities to the community. GVLT plans to transfer (donate) the property to the care of the United States Forest Service (USFS), which already manages the Middle Cottonwood Trail and the surrounding lands.

“This property is a gem and is a tremendous resource for the community. It took a willing and dedicated land owner committed to conservation to get this done,” said Brendan Weiner, Program Director at GVLT. The property appraised for $752,000 and the landowner – Michael Skogen - donated over half of the property value towards the project.

The remaining funding came from a pool of private donors, grants, and support from local businesses focused on outdoor recreation, as well as $80,000 from GVLT’s own acquisition fund. GVLT has been interested in conserving this property for 10+ years, and began negotiations with the Skogen family two years ago when they listed the property for sale.

The community will now have public access to all 160 acres of the highly scenic parcel, where trail users have spotted an array of wildlife including mule deer, elk, moose, mountain goats, and eagles. A pristine, spring-fed creek flows through the property to Middle Cottonwood Creek, surrounded by aspen groves and mature forests. Previous development proposals for the property have recommended moving the trail, but GVLT’s purchase permanently removes the threat of development.

“Development of the property would result in significant negative impacts to the trail corridor and the surrounding habitat and would dramatically change the trail user experience,” said Weiner. “We are thrilled to have the acquisition complete.”
GVLT will manage the property until it is donated to the USFS, which could take up to four years. 

This project was funded by a diverse group of public agencies, individuals, foundations, businesses and organizations including: Skogen Family, Montana Fish and Wildlife Conservation Trust, Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation, Cross Charitable Foundation, Mule Deer Foundation, SITKA Gear, Cinnabar Foundation, onX, Travelers for Open Land, The Ott Family, Lisa and Keith Reed, Kainz Family Foundation, Margaret and Ken Emerson, Pope & Young Club, Liza and Cody Abbott, Mara and Thomas Lehrman, Zaniboni Lighting, Cathy Costakis, Alan Larson, and Caroline and Will Price

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Recent MSU alum’s company releases free chatbot about COVID-19

A recent Montana State University alumnus is using his entrepreneurial venture to share important information about COVID-19 in a way that is easy for people to access – for free.

Levi Worts’ startup, SkyCivic, created the chatbot with a goal of helping to slow the spread of COVID-19. It is based off information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Worts graduated from MSU in 2015 with a degree in English. SkyCivic is his Manhattan-based company that works to make government information accessible and engaging through its automated chatbots. A chatbot is a software application used to conduct an online conversation via text or text-to-speech.

“Chatbots are an interactive experience designed to mimic the most-used mobile interface on the planet: text messaging,” Worts explained. “In other words, everyone understands how to consume information and interact with a chatbot already.”

Worts noted that chatbot interactions can happen either through guided conversations – such as options presented that the user selects from – or through custom queries, where the user types out a message that the chatbot then has to interpret and understand.

“Information is one of the most critical resources in a crisis, but it can be hard to consume and comprehend what’s important to each individual,” Worts said of his motivation for creating the chatbot. “The COVID-19 self-assessment chatbot distills all of the critical information and presents it in a way that anyone can understand.”

SkyCivic’s COVID-19 chatbot is based off the CDC's priority and symptom guidelines. It features determinations on whether a user is showing mild or emergency symptoms; priority ratings based on CDC guidelines for testing; and updates on the current COVID cases in the U.S., including a feature that allows users to search COVID cases by location.

Worts said the chatbot is focused on self-assessment, because his company identified it as the highest risk of misinformation and misunderstanding.

“However, we recognize the power of deeper research and understanding,” Worts added. “We included direct links to CDC webpages and the case tracker to search COVID cases by state, county and city, in some cases, to help citizens stay informed and up-to-date.”

Worts added that the chatbot should not replace a professional medical assessment.

“Naturally, chatbots are not an actual replacement for medical professionals or clinics assessments; rather, they act as the initial conversational layer on the subject,” Worts said. “If you feel you are in an emergency situation, seek assistance from medical professionals immediately.”

MSU Blackstone LaunchPad Director Trevor Huffmaster said the chatbot is a great tool.

“We are so impressed by the COVID-19 tool that Levi and SkyCivic developed,” Huffmaster said. “There are so many additional government and industry opportunities to create major efficiencies with chatbot tools like these."  

Huffmaster noted that SkyCivic is one of 14 finalists in MSU’s inaugural $50K Venture Competition, where students, faculty, staff and recent alumni compete for a share of $50,000 in prize money. Participants gain access to experienced entrepreneurs, investors, mentors and numerous business network resources. They also receive feedback from judges and may capture the attention of investors. The 14 finalists were selected from among 29 entries.

The company is also a current member of the 406 Labs business accelerator at MSU.

Worts, who grew up in Belgrade and has spent all of his life in the Gallatin Valley except for a five-year enlistment in the U.S. Marine Corps, said he is grateful for the opportunities and assistance provided by MSU’s Jake Jabs College of Business and Entrepreneurship, its Blackstone LaunchPad powered by Techstars and the 406 Labs.

"Starting out as an entrepreneur can be a daunting process. Our journey so far has been extraordinary, and I credit that to the people and resources that MSU offers to our community,” Worts said. “Everyone has gone above and beyond to help SkyCivic form connections and direct us to mentors. We now have the opportunity to focus on what makes us passionate, the product."

And, he added, his English degree has served him well as an entrepreneur.

“My time at MSU was spent understanding how to effectively communicate to an audience through writing,” Worts said. “As it turns out, chatbots are an extension of that work. I would like to thank my professors in the English department for pushing the boundaries of what we thought was possible. For me, it created an appetite to explore and innovate.”

SkyCivic’s COVID-19 chatbot is available at

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Tuesday, Apr. 28th, 2020

MSU researcher secures $2.5 million grant from National Institutes of Health

Montana State University researcher Blake Wiedenheft is a recognized expert in one of today's hottest science fields, so it's natural to wonder what discoveries may be in store now that he received a $2.5 million grant from the National Institutes of Health earlier this year.

And because the NIH's Maximizing Investigators' Research Award is designed to provide flexibility to delve deeply into research that could generate breakthroughs, Wiedenheft himself is looking forward to seeing where the five-year funding will lead in his study of the complex interactions between bacteria and the viruses that attack them, with potential applications for treating COVID-19 and a wide range of other diseases.

"An ideal outcome would be stumbling on something entirely unexpected," said Wiedenheft, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in MSU's College of Agriculture. "This grant really provides a new dimension of intellectual freedom for pursuing ideas as they evolve."

"Dr. Wiedenheft’s award is well-deserved and highly prestigious," said Jason Carter, MSU's vice president for research, economic development and graduate education. "These MIRA grants are indicative of sustained, high-impact research by accomplished scientists."

The grant will allow Wiedenheft to significantly expand his lab's capacity, adding up to six doctoral students, four postdoctoral researchers and a lab technician. Wiedenheft has made major contributions to the field in recent years, including high-profile papers in Science, Nature and other journals about CRISPR, the bacteria immune system that wields sophisticated molecules to grab and slice strands of invading viral DNA to render them harmless.

The grant "is an impressive achievement for Blake, and it represents tremendous recognition within a very competitive field of science," said Montana University System Regents Professor Mark Jutila, head of the microbiology and immunology department. "His efforts in the study of CRISPR have had major impacts in the field as well as at MSU, in terms of mentoring and training students in the lab and teaching in the classroom."

Although CRISPR is often used as a general term for CRISPR-Cas9 and a few other proteins that have been repurposed for curing genetic disease, those CRISPR systems "represent a very small fraction of bacterial immune systems found in nature," Wiedenheft said. "CRISPRs are very diverse," and many — perhaps most — haven't been studied in detail, he said.

The NIH grant will allow Wiedenheft's team to explore the frontier of CRISPRs and other immune systems in bacteria, which, scientists are increasingly finding, in many ways resemble those of more complex organisms, including humans.

"Some of these immune systems are incredibly complicated," Wiedenheft said. "To understand how they work and which parts are most important, we look to the viruses for help." That's because viruses have often evolved elegant mechanisms to thwart the bacterial defense, he explained. In one recent study, Wiedenheft showed that a virus produced a protein molecule — called an anti-CRISPR — that mimics the CRISPR's alert system, creating a decoy that distracts the bacteria's response.

Peering inside of bacteria with an extremely powerful microscope to see CRISPR molecules is a bit like encountering a complex machine like a car and trying to figure out how it works, Wiedenheft said. Because viral anti-CRISPRs target parts of the “car” that are important or vulnerable, "a virus can point you directly to the ignition switch, or the gas pedal or the steering wheel," he said.

"Viruses can teach us about the immune systems we're studying, and sometimes even point us to new immune systems that we didn’t even know about," Wiedenheft said. "We anticipate that anti-CRISPRs, like CRISPRs themselves, are incredibly diverse. By understanding that diversity, we think we'll gain a much better understanding of how these immune systems work."

Recent trials with human patients have shown success with using CRISPR-Cas9 to treat and potentially cure sickle cell disease, a serious disorder affecting millions of people around the world. The CRISPR treatment involves surgically correcting a genetic defect by cutting the DNA and repairing it in a way that restores gene function. Diseases like sickle cell, Beta thalassemia and other blood diseases are the easiest to treat because the cells in blood are relatively easy to access. But many labs, including Wiedenheft's, are working to develop new treatment methods that direct the CRISPR-Cas9 treatment to specific cells within the body, according to Wiedenheft.

In responding to the coronavirus pandemic, some scientists have also repurposed other CRISPR proteins, Cas12 and Cas13, to rapidly diagnose COVID-19 in experimental medical tests — yet another indication of the far-reaching potential of precisely mapping CRISPRs and developing an understanding of how they might be applied, according to Wiedenheft.

Wiedenheft is the second person at MSU to receive the NIH's Maximizing Investigators' Research Award. Last year, Joan Broderick, professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry in MSU's College of Letters and Science, won the five-year grant in the amount of $1.77 million for research on a large family of enzymes called radical SAMs.

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Montana Shakespeare in the Parks to postpone 2020 season

In consideration of the health and safety of its audiences and artists during the coronavirus pandemic, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks has announced it will postpone its 2020 season to 2021.

Organizers said that the two plays scheduled for this season, “Cymbeline” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will be performed instead in 2021.

Kevin Asselin, the company’s executive artistic director, said MSIP is preparing plans to fulfill its mission of delivering professional productions of Shakespeare plays to rural and underserved communities in alternate ways.

“Like so many theater companies across the nation, MSIP’s schedule will have to be dramatically altered in order to protect the health and safety of our community,” Asselin said. “However, we are determined to able to serve our mission. To that end, we are in preparations for a different kind of summer tour.”

Waded Cruzado, president of Montana State University, where the theater company is based, said that while the live summer Montana Shakespeare in the Parks performances will be missed, postponing was the right thing to do during the pandemic.

"We appreciate Montana Shakespeare in the Parks’ efforts to share content with us in other ways, including the streaming of archived performances and lesson plans shared with students and teachers,” Cruzado said. “The show will go on – just in different ways.”

In response to cancellations and postponements, Montana Shakespeare in the Parks began creating content for audiences of all ages under the title “MSIP Live.” That includes streaming archival recordings of some of the troupe’s recent plays on Facebook and YouTube every two weeks. Cast members of Montana Shakes!, the program’s troupe for elementary schools are sheltered in place together and have filmed a play, or Virtual Shakes, that has been distributed, along with lesson plans, to teachers and students online in collaboration with MontanaPBS. Classes that have received the play and workshops also have utilized private web-hosted talkbacks with the actors each school day. MSIP is also currently making content for sixth- to 12th-grade audiences at

MSIP recently launched the “Go Forth!” campaign to raise money for its online programming and future summer tour plans, while keeping all programs free for audiences. For more information, email development director Sonja Ervin-Bahr at

"Montana Shakespeare in the Parks is the world’s most expansive outreach theater initiative that performs free to the public, integrates with community arts programs and provides schools with a robust educational platform so students may engage with the arts early and often,” said Dean of the College of Arts and Architecture Royce Smith. “We are proud of MSIP’s ongoing commitment to its core mission in the time of COVID-19 and will continue to adapt our programming and initiatives to the changing circumstances impacting the communities we serve."

For more information on MSIP’s response to the coronavirus health crisis or how to participate in Virtual Shakes or “MSIP Live,” contact director of marketing and outreach Susan Miller at

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SIMMS donates personal protective equipment to FWP for maintenance

COVID-19 has required solutions that illustrate Montana’s resilience, ingenuity and unity in a time of crisis. One such solution is being implemented to help Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks continue providing recreation opportunities across the state.

SIMMS Fishing Products has generously donated 200 pairs of repurposed waders to be used as personal protective equipment, or PPE, for FWP staff that care for Montana’s state parks and fishing access sites. FWP will begin distributing the waders to staff in each region next week. The waders will also help U.S. Forest Service personnel care for some federal outdoor recreation facilities.

The donation comes at a time when recreational use of these sites has been unseasonably high, and the availability of PPE and cleaning supplies has been limited, due to the pandemic. This has created challenges for FWP as it works to follow federal and state safety guidelines for maintenance staff while keeping sites open to the public.

SIMMS approached FWP with the idea to use their repair center’s collection of used waders that are no longer fit for fishing but could be repurposed as PPE overalls by removing the stocking feet.

“These types of innovative approaches by businesses like SIMMS are allowing us to be able to provide much needed respite at our parks and fishing access sites for all Montanans, which is so necessary during these difficult times,” said FWP’s State Parks Division Administrator Beth Shumate. “We’re incredibly grateful to SIMMS for the additional PPE to protect our staff, helping us continue providing outdoor opportunities for the public.”

Diane Bristol, Senior Director of Employee and Community Engagement at SIMMS, said the donation was largely inspired through SIMMS’ Fish It Well initiative, which focuses on doing good through outdoor citizenship.

“We so appreciate being able to access our rivers. Being able to give back to the folks who are out there keeping them open is awesome,” Bristol said. “We couldn’t think of a better way to prolong the life of our waders than to repurpose them as PPE.”

FWP staff will use the waders in their new role as they care for facilities at state parks and fishing access sites. FWP continues to encourage the public to practice social distancing and to follow directives from Gov. Steve Bullock.

As always, responsible use of public sites and facilities helps FWP keep them open to visitors. Because the outside is in us all, we all play a part in maintaining, protecting and enjoying our wild places.

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Thursday, Apr. 23rd, 2020

MSU Extension discusses the process of writing a will

Writing a will or thinking about doing so is a normal and reasonable response in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, according to a Montana State University Extension specialist.

Marsha Goetting, MSU Extension family economics specialist, has collected information about the process and Montana law for people interested in getting started with creating a will.

A will is a written document that describes how property is distributed after a person’s death. By making a will, people can decide for themselves who receives their property, how much each beneficiary receives, when they will own the property, and, to some degree, what they can do with it. In the absence of a will, Montana law determines how your property is distributed. A will only becomes binding upon death and after being validated by a district court.

Goetting said there are a few ways to write a will. One is a “holographic” will, one that an individual can create themselves in their own handwriting. Such a will can be valid if the signature and the material provisions are in the handwriting of the testator, the legal term for a person whose will is being written. Self-made wills, however, frequently increase costs and trouble for heirs, said Goetting. The validity of a handwritten will can be questioned due to errors and legal interpretation that conflicts with the testator’s intentions.

“In most cases, an attorney can advise and assist you in drafting a will that best suits your needs,” Goetting said. “You want an adviser to avoid the legal pitfalls that can result from a ‘do-it-yourself’ will from a computer software program sold on the web. Avoid relying on the advice of untrained relatives or friends who are not current on Montana laws about wills.”

Attorney fees for help making a will vary, depending on the size of the estate and the complexity of the will. Goetting urged people to always ask an attorney for an estimate of the cost, preferably at the first meeting.

An attorney can make a will “self-proved.” That means a statement is added noting that the testator and witnesses signed and acknowledged the document as genuine. That way, when the will is submitted for probate, witnesses do not have to be present to testify whether the testator was of sound mind when the will was signed.

Goetting recommends storing a will in a safe place, such as with a bank, trust company or the attorney who drafted it.

Montana law also allows a will to be stored with a district court. Individuals can contact the clerk of court in their county for the correct procedure. The testator, or a person they’ve authorized, can pick up the will for the purposes of changing or destroying it. Goetting said careful consideration should be given to storing wills in a jointly owned safe deposit box since multiple people would have access.

Goetting also noted that a will may not control all of a person’s property. If that property is owned by two or more people in joint tenancy with “right of survivorship,” after one owner dies it will be owned by the survivor or survivors — even if the will says otherwise. Proceeds from assets where a beneficiary is named — such as insurance policies; pension funds; U.S. savings bonds; payable-on-death financial accounts; transfer-on-death registrations on stocks, bonds and mutual funds; and transfer-on-death deeds on real property — also cannot be controlled by a will. 

“A will is a written plan to make sure your property and assets are distributed the way you want after your death,” Goetting said. “Your will is the blueprint that guides the district court in the distribution of your estate. Write one now before it’s too late.”

For more information, request the MontGuide about wills from a local MSU County Extension or Reservation agent, or download the PDF at

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Wednesday, Apr. 22nd, 2020

National Television Series ‘tasteMAKERS’ Launches Digital Marketplace to Help Artisan Makers Remain Resilient in the Face of Covid-19

 ST. LOUIS, MO — “Stay home.” “Small businesses are in trouble.” “Is it safe to go to the grocery store?” Each day the pandemic continues, small food businesses are struggling. In an effort to help support small-batch makers and farmers, tasteMAKERS, a docu-style food-focused public television series that airs on stations nationwide, is launching Makers Marketplace, a new online shop filled with artisan products. From Montana, we have Treeline Coffee from Bozeman.

The shop will launch on Wed., April 22 at noon EST at

“When we sat down to talk about how we could have a positive impact on artisans and makers across the country during this unprecedented time, launching a marketplace so that food lovers could access their products directly was the best way that we could think of to help support them,” tasteMAKERS host and producer Cat Neville said in an announcement posted on Instagram on Monday, April 20.
Wednesday’s launch will include a variety of products from a growing list of over 30 vendors. Product categories include coffee, dairy, pickles and ferments, natural sweeteners and honey, fresh and dried fruits, seafood and more. Some vendors, like Atlantic Sea Farms in Maine or Oliver Farm Artisan Oils in Georgia, have been featured in episodes of the show. Others, like Phoenix’s Iconic Cocktail Co. or Seattle’s Haxan Hot Sauce, participated in tasteMAKERS’ event series, Meet The Makers. Over the next few months, tasteMAKERS will expand the Makers Marketplace to include artisans from every corner of the country. 
Makers Marketplace will be enhanced by tasteMAKERS’ focus on storytelling. Through feature profiles, shoppers will learn about the people who are making the products and the story behind the food itself. Shoppers will also have access to a library of recipes and cooking videos as well as weekly product highlights which will detail new and noteworthy items in the shop. 
“All of the artisans who are selling their products on our site have a unique story — one that we want to share,” Neville said. “Colorado-based distillery Jack Rabbit Hill Farms essentially lost its business overnight when restaurants closed because of coronavirus. They were forced to get creative. What did they do? They repurposed their resources and made CapRock Hand Sanitizer, which can be purchased on our marketplace.”
In order to become a vendor, businesses must simply be a part of the #MakersMovement. If you or an artisan you know would like to become a vendor, please email
tasteMAKERS airs nationally, reaching over 94% of American television households on public television stations as well as the Create channel. Visit
to stream full episodes, shop the marketplace, access recipes, peruse photos and find additional information about the show. For air dates, visit

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Tuesday, Apr. 21st, 2020

Rocky Mountain Bank Contributes $100,000 for COVID-19 Community Relief Efforts

Rocky Mountain Bank announced today it will commit $100,000 to support four local community initiatives related to Montana’s COVID-19 crisis. The Billings-based bank will make significant contributions to the Billings Food Bank, HRDC, Flathead Food Bank, and Family Promise of Gallatin Valley.  This latest community outreach follows earlier announcements about the bank’s comprehensive COVID-19 response measures centered around financial relief for clients and employee safety.

“This is an unprecedented time for families and businesses across Montana,” expressed Tod Petersen, President and CEO of Rocky Mountain Bank. “Our employees, clients, and community continue to come together to help one another during this crisis. It has reinforced how fortunate we are to live and work in Montana. On behalf of our amazing team at Rocky Mountain Bank, I am proud to support these important community relief efforts.”

As the COVID-19 crisis persists, the demand for emergency meal services, shelter services, and related hardship services continues to surge. Rocky Mountain Bank has focused its contribution to support these growing needs.

Contribution funds will be allocated to the following causes:

$40,000 for Billings Food Bank
Rocky Mountain Bank will contribute $40,000 to the Billings Food Bank. The organization provides more than 14 million pounds of food to local residents needing assistance every year.  It also helps distribute blankets, quilts, hygiene kits, student lunches, and other essentials across the region. The nonprofit also operates the Fortin Café & Gift Shop and the Fortin Culinary Training Center. More information is at

“The Billings Food Bank is so appreciative of Rocky Mountain Bank’s gift during this unique time in our collective history,” commented Sheryle Shandy, CEO of the Billings Food Bank. “Your faith in us is will be long remembered.  Thank you so much.”

$30,000 for HRDC
HRDC will receive $30,000 from Rocky Mountain Bank. The nonprofit operates the Gallatin Valley Food Bank, Big Sky Community Food Bank, and Headwaters Area Food Bank. It also runs Bozeman’s Fork and Spoon, an innovative pay-what-you-can café, and the Warming Center for the Homeless. Additionally, the group leads a series of other initiatives centered on housing, community transportation, senior empowerment, youth development, and more. More information is at

"While HRDC's mission has not changed, how we meet that mission is constantly evolving in this challenging time,” explained Heather Grenier, president/CEO of HRDC. “This support will enable us to ensure nobody goes to bed hungry, everyone has a safe, warm place to shelter in place and our elderly have the essential items they need to remain safe at home.  We continue to be humbled by the generosity of this community and the support for our neighbors in need."

$20,000 for Flathead Food Bank
Rocky Mountain Bank will provide $20,000 to the Flathead Food Bank. The organization provides food services to disadvantaged individuals and families across the Kalispell region. The organization’s key programs include its main Kalispell pantry, mobile pantry service, student backpack lunch program, and its commodity supplemental food program. More information is at

“Thank you Rocky Mountain Bank for this amazing blessing so we can feed not only Flathead County but Northwest Montana and all of those struggling during our global crisis, expressed Jamie Quinn, executive director for Flathead Food Bank. “Your support will help us to get food to children out of school, senior citizens sheltering in place, people laid off during a difficult period in their lives, and so many others.”

$10,000 for Family Promise of Gallatin Valley
Rocky Mountain Bank will contribute $10,000 to Family Promise of Gallatin Valley. The nonprofit works with a large base of local volunteers to provide shelter, meals, job training, and other necessities to bring lasting solutions to families in need. More information is at

"Imagine being told to shelter in place and homeschool your children, when you don't have a home to go to,” asked Christel Chvilicek, executive director of Family Promise of Gallatin Valley. “The support from Rocky Mountain Bank during this pandemic will ensure we can continue to support our most at risk population in Gallatin Valley. We can't thank them enough for the support."

Rocky Mountain Bank Part of $1.2 Million Community Outreach Initiative
Heartland Financial USA, Inc., the holding company of Rocky Mountain Bank and 10 other regional banks across the United States, is contributing a total of $1.2 million to COVID-19 community relief programs.  The outreach is directed at supporting families and businesses across 12 states impacted by the crisis.

Banking Client Relief Actions
Since the beginning of the crisis, Rocky Mountain Bank has enacted a multitude of programs aimed at providing financial relief for consumer, small business, and commercial clients. As an SBA-certified lender, Rocky Mountain Bank is also working with business clients to utilize available CARES Act funding, such as the Paycheck Protection Program, Emergency Economic Injury Disaster Loans, and other programs.  Please visit our COVID-19 resource center on our website for frequent updates.

Keeping Our Employee Team Safe
Rocky Mountain Bank continues to adapt our operations to the evolving environment. This has included having much of our workforce working remotely from home, modifying bank lobby access, restricting employee travel and group meetings, and intensifying the cleaning regiments of all our locations. Rocky Mountain Bank has also implemented a premium pay increase of 20% for its hourly customer-facing bank branch employees and customer service representatives in our call centers.  The bank has also committed to cover all COVID-19 related testing and treatment costs for its primary healthcare plan participants.  

About Rocky Mountain Bank
Rocky Mountain Bank, a subsidiary of Heartland Financial USA, Inc., (NASDAQ: HTLF), is a state-chartered, community-invested bank with more than $528 million in assets. Headquartered in Billings, Montana, the bank also has offices in Bigfork, Bozeman, Kalispell, Plains, Plentywood, Stevensville and Whitehall. With a focus on business and personal lending, and deposit services, they are dedicated to making Great Things Happen! for their customers. For more information, visit Rocky Mountain Bank is a member of the FDIC and an Equal Housing Lender.

About Heartland Financial USA, Inc.
Heartland Financial USA, Inc. is a diversified financial services company with assets of $13.2 billion. The company provides banking, mortgage, private client, investment and insurance services to individuals and businesses. Heartland currently has 114 banking locations serving 83 communities in Iowa, Illinois, Wisconsin, New Mexico, Arizona, Montana, Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas, Missouri, Texas and California. Additional information about Heartland Financial USA, Inc. is available at

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