Volf Ranch

Located in the scenic foothills of the Snowy Mountains, the Volf Ranch raises Red Angus cattle, barley, spring & winter wheat and alfalfa. Purchased in 1955 by Chuck and Jo Volf, the picturesque ranch is currently operated by generation #2-Jeff & Chris, and #3-Evan and Brittany, with #4 -EJ, Miles & Dexter- quickly learning the ropes.

In addition to his positions on the Montana Grain Growers board and Fergus County Weed Board, Evan utilizes social media to tell the story of his family's agricultural lifestyle and Montana's agriculture economy. Telling this story is more than simply sharing photos.

The Volf family understands that consumer's want to know that their food is safe. Marketing campaigns on food products and food labeling capitalizes on buzzwords to sell products instead of giving honest backgrounds. Unfortunately this creates more confusion and mistrust for consumers. The Volf's believe in telling their farm family story before someone else does.

Along with keeping an open mind and having the ability to adapt to Montana's changing weather and volatile markets, they believe this transparency has allowed them to remain successful.

Similar to numerous farms and ranches in the Central Montana area, in order to deal with the economic downturn, the Volf Ranch has implemented some new practices. These include no-till farming, utilizing more re-crop and less fallow and diversifying their rotations with hay barley, peas and a forage wheat called willow creek.

Cecrle Farms

As third generation farmers Mike and Brittney Cecrle are continuing their Czechoslovakian heritage, farming the original homestead northeast of Hobson as well as another family farm south of Moore. Although over the years these soils have raised hogs and oats, today they grow winter and spring varieties of wheat, malting barley, grasses to support a small herd of Black Angus cattle and most importantly the 4th generation of Cecrle farmers.

Bridging the gap between farm and consumer is no easy feat. And this distance only seems to grow when we see so much of our food in boxed and processed forms. It’s understandable why consumers struggle to make the connection between their plate and where the ingredients originated.
The Cecrle’s believe that this gap is narrowed with education and that it should start in the classroom. If we can teach children at an early age about what agriculture looks like and where their food comes from, then we have the opportunity to create informed consumers later on. Especially in this age of advanced technology, we can bring the farm to the classroom and teach agriculture and nutrition in new and exciting ways.

The advancements in agriculture and the opportunity to use social media to tell their story are two things that have the Cecrle family excited about their future as farmers. These innovations include new varieties of seed that can resist disease, pests and drought all while producing more bushels, new technology that allows for precision seeding, application and harvest to eliminate waste, and real time data collection helping to determine areas that can use improvements in efficiency.

They also know that social media has the potential to be both friend and foe to the agriculture industry. The opportunity to share with consumers is obvious but that information can also be misconstrued. As with any topic, often fear mongering usually takes the stage and the misinformation spreads like wildfire.

Mountain View Ranch

Nestled at the base of the Snowy Mountains near Buffalo, Montana, it is easy to see how the Mountain View Ranch acquired its name. This third-generation family ranch is currently owned and operated by Cory and Clarajean Merrill along with their oldest son Weston and his wife Shannon. Their acreage is home to a commercial cow-calf beef herd and hay fields of alfalfa and grass, which is used as feed.

The obvious focal point of the ranch is the gorgeous red barn. Recently listed on the National Register of Historic Places, the Big Barn has hosted concerts, dances and weddings, as well as the much-anticipated Annual Harvest Ball held every Labor Day weekend. The Big Barn will also be featured in an upcoming Montana PBS production of Barns of Montana and is prominent on the Mountain View Ranch Facebook page.

Offering a first-hand look at the agricultural lifestyle is one way the Merrill’s feel the gap between urban and ag populations can be narrowed. Whether that is an onsite visit or a story shared on social media, giving an insider’s view of the day-to-day functions of a ranch is crucial. Shannon and Weston work hard to effectively tell their family’s agricultural story and recognizing the change in consumer requests, they work to keep agriculture innovation part of their business.

Generally speaking, people fear what they do not know, so seeing and experiencing agriculture first-hand, people can gain a better understanding and therefor do not have to be afraid or skeptical of it. If you want to hear more of Mountain View’s story, follow the ranch on Facebook or check out their producer reports in this winter’s Prairie Star or check out their interview on the Yellowstone Public Radio’s feature of Field Days.

Lazy J Diamond Ranch

This third generation ranch, located just 3 miles North of Hilger at the base of the North Moccasin mountains, was first established 70 years ago. The Green Ranch, now known as the Lazy J Diamond Ranch, has grown and evolved over the years into the innovative venture it is today. To neighbors and family members, it was sometimes called the “experiment station” as there was always something new being tested. Today Megan and Ryan along with their 2-year-old son Zade and Ryan’s parents Jim and Alice, continue to push themselves to keep up with technology advancements and improve their business.

Currently, the Lazy J Diamond Ranch is home to about 300 cow/calf pairs and supports 700 acres of hay and 1000 acres of farm land, growing mostly wheat and barley. Working to diversify, over the last few years they have included different crops into the farming rotation to help improve soil health. They have experimented with peas, canola, and cover crop mixes as well as other ideas they hope to implement in future years.

The Green family prides themselves on running a low stress operation, starting with cattle handling and extending to their everyday activities. They believe working in a low stress environment transfers to all aspects of their life and keeps the job of farmer and rancher fun. They also strongly believe in being involved in the community that supports them. Currently, Ryan serves on the CHS- Big Sky board, Fergus County Livestock Association board and the local church board. Megan has recently become involved in the Central Montana Cattlewomen.

Megan and Ryan see the biggest threat to our current agriculture ecosystem as the public’s perception of this profession. As the distance between purchaser and farmer grows with each passing generation, regaining the trust of consumers through truth and accurate information is the best bet at combating all the misinformation. Adding more agriculture to school’s curriculum will keep the next generation better connected to agriculture and the food they eat.

Vanek Ranch

Vanek Ranch

At the turn of the century, Joe Vanek purchased a few hundred acres of land on Warm Spring Creek near Brooks, Montana. After years of hard work his son Wincil, was able to purchase some adjoining land to expand the ranch. This purchase included a spring that maintains a constant temperature of 68°F year-round, best known today as Gigantic Warm Spring. Since the beginning Vanek Ranch has been family affair, with the 3rd, 4thand 5thgenerations currently working together to get the day-to-day work done. David Vanek Sr. took over operations in the 1960’s and has recently handed the reigns over to his son Alan Vanek. Working along with Alan are his wife Leah and their son Cody as well as his brother Bill and his son Hugh.

The Vanek’s take pride in the quality Black Angus beef cattle and alfalfa they raise but also work in the custom cutting and contract trucking sector. In the summer season, they also operate the Gigantic Warm Spring as a recreational spot. Opening this weekend, May 25th, the world’s largest warm spring is a great spot to cool off on a hot summer day. Check out the Facebook page for more information.

New technology in agriculture offers the biggest potential for expansion and improvement on the Vanek Ranch. Looking forward they hope to incorporate cameras in the calving shed for remote monitoring of mothers and babies, drones to locate cattle in vast, mountain pastures and improved genetics in the cattle herd to produce a more consistent product.

Being willing to listen with no bias is a good way to bridge the gap between rural and urban populations, Bill Vanek feels. Most often the questions have answers that are just not communicated in an effective manner. Agricultural education opportunities for youth such as ag days, FFA and 4-H are all programs that the Vanek’s support. Looking forward the family sees land and water being limiting factors for family farms and ranches. Keeping land in production is important and vital for communities like ours.