Bringing Bozeman Back To The Valley Of The Flowers

Angie Ripple  |   Saturday Apr. 1st, 2017

April is Keep America Beautiful Month, and one local mother, now grandmother, is working very hard to make Bozeman and America a more beautiful place with The Valley of the Flowers Project. The project grew out of Wren Kilian’s deep concern for the lack of recycling in Montana. Wren’s research in the early ‘90s informed her that Montana was (and still is) nearly last in the nation in recycling; West Yellowstone’s landfill, like many others across the state, was leaking toxins; and Yellowstone National Park had plans to become zero waste with the implementation of an educational program, recycling bins beside every trash can, and a municipal composting facility. So began 25 years of activism at the local, state, and national levels, culminating with a bicycle ride from Montana to Washington, D.C. in 2013 with the hopes of her petition for a National Bottle Deposit and Single-Use Bag Law going viral. A Mother’s Day for Mother Earth was the theme of this ride.

Upon her return from that amazing, but unsuccessful trip, Wren realized that the amount of energy she was using to lobby the government was better spent trying to make her own life more sustainable. She turned her lawn into permaculture gardens, and a new direction for activism unfolded. A realization that working directly with businesses in the sustainability arena, educating the public, and attaining grants to fund community-building nature stewardship work would be more fruitful. Thus began the Valley of the Flowers Project with a free veggie stand on her street corner, a new petition, this time to local store owners about BYO Bag for Change, some signs, and flyers.

Two other groups quickly became collaborators with the Valley of the Flowers Project’s efforts, Transition Town Bozeman and 1,000 New Gardens Bozeman, working in different aspects of sustainability from food and energy independence to creating a zero-waste grocery store, an app for consumers to locate sustainability minded businesses, community service gardening/nature cleanup programs, funding for a glass pulverizer and state-of-the-art municipal composter with local education and infrastructure to take Bozeman and all of Montana to zero waste.

Local successes have been small, but significant, as the $.05 bag refunds of BYO Bag for Change have raised over $2,000 in grants for community gardens, park recycling bins, and youth nature programs in its first 2 years at just a few stores. Bring the Bins!, with the aid of the Bogert Farmer’s Market and the City of Bozeman, will bring, for the first time ever, public recycling bins to 6 city parks. Several businesses have also agreed to public access recycling bins, to be mutually funded and maintained.

Fast forward to 2017, and each group still has less than $1,000 in its budget and 1 volunteer holding down the fort. Yet, Valley of the Flowers Project has big plans for this year, and so do the gardening groups. Consumers can convince more stores to get on board with BYO Bag for Change because the single-use bags stores pretend to give away for “free” are actually factored into our groceries/goods’ cost. Those nickel and dime bag refunds really do add up, and can make a big difference in our community. Ask your favorite store to do BYO Bag, and write to companies to change their packaging. Like many bees collecting tiny amounts of nectar to make copious supplies of honey, our small actions, like BYO Bag really make a difference when we all do our share.

Wren’s hope is that Montanans will seize the opportunity for civic engagement this program brings, and will show that Montanans don’t need a law to do the right thing. If a simple step to sustainability like using our own bags at stores can make that big of a collective difference in being better stewards of our “last best place,” then let’s get ‘er done!!

Valley of the Flowers Project’s fundraising campaign in the coming years will focus on “nature inspiring art, art giving back to nature,” with sales of donated arts and crafts in an online gallery and at farmer’s markets. Until its big grant comes through, the organization will continue to create small ripples of positive change, helping to deepen people’s respect for and connection to the natural world.

Volunteers in all aspects of building community through sustainability are always needed, so this grassroots movement can grow and spread like wildflowers!! If Yellowstone made it to zero-waste, why we can’t we do it state-wide?

The Valley of the Flowers Project’s goal is for Bozeman to become a model of transforming into a sustainable community in which to raise our children and grandchildren. The Valley of the Flowers Project is named in honor of the original inhabitants of this land, whose deep reverence for the natural world was reflected in every action.

Join Wren and other volunteers at The Valley of the Flowers Mother’s Day fundraiser at Bozeman Brewing; please come out, get a free flower, and lift a pint for Mother Earth!  

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