Unless and until I cover every square mile of Montana, I doubt I’ll cease to be amazed by the landscapes out our front doors (and barn doors). In early June, I visited the White Deer Ranch and got to see first-hand how they run their sustainable agriculture operations. Lee and Roxanne and their family have been working with their land, and diversifying their farm, and making a living.
Farming organically and in harmony with the environment is important to them, and they are showing us all how it is possible.
With a diverse farm operation, the Dunns are working with their land to grow specialty crops like the watercress that grows along their creek, along with nettle and fresh mint. They’re experimenting with microgreens (radish, cabbage—they even tried wasabi arugula) that are in growing demand in the Red Lodge and Billings area—and they are crispy and spicy and would be an excellent addition to your salad or sandwich. Roxanne made a pesto from microgreens and I just can’t stop craving it. They also raise cattle, pork, chickens, and goats. And FYI, Lee makes a mean goat milk rhubarb latte…
Upon arriving at the charming yellow home of Lee and Roxanne Dunn, I was enthusiastically greeted by their 8-year old border collie, West–he’s a big kickball fan. We all left the house and traveled up a little hill to the gorgeous bee house the Lees have created from an old shed they converted and moved to an open field for better access to pollen sources for their happy bees. Modeled after bee houses developed in Slovenia, the Dunns took the bee boxes to the art walk and people painted them for their beautiful bee house.
White Deer Ranch has hugelkultur no-dig raised beds, including one made from an old collapsed with thriving plant life all over it: nettle; chocolate mint (which we used for tea later); an apple tree (doing fine until the goat kid got at it); and more. The Dunns have invited a MSU herbalist come out and host tours to talk about local herbs and what can grow and what is edible there. Roxanne uses this knowledge to make natural wellness and beauty products in her Rugged Ranch Woman line.
The 50 or so chickens roam the property by day and stay in their chicken trailer at night, adorned with one of the metal sculptures designed by Roxanne’s son Brice. The chickens get to move around the property and they go to town on all that nature provides. Sometimes, when the trailer has been moved to a different part of the property, the chickens won’t stay back in the trailer at sunset, but act weird and get out and congregate where the trailer is usually parked. Weirdo dinosaurs. They also get over fermented barley most mornings. And they devour it. They get so excited for this treat that in the morning before they are let out, the chickens are smashing up against the door, feathers sticking out of the gap by the door and squawking like…hens in a hen house.
Oh, and I milked my first goat. A Nigerian Dwarf goat. Most of it went up my arm, but, hey, it was my first time. Lee built a nice little contraption for the goats to chow down on some grain while they get milked. Roxanne or Brianna, the young woman Wwoofing for the Dunns (a natural goat-milker it seems), will show you how to milk and care for goats, trim hooves, rotate pasture and make fresh goat’s milk into delicious foods or beauty products. No lesson in falling in love with dwarf goats will be necessary.
The Dunns have turned their barn into a vegetable starter and microgreen incubator, powered by a wood pellet stove in the winter. As a means to supplement their diverse farming lifestyle, the Dunns hold farm to table dinners in this same barn, and outdoors if the weather permits, serving food from their farm. They typically feed up to 50 people! They also hold weddings, host field trips, and provide farm stays. The diversity in income sources helps them farm organically and with the environment, in a way that aligns with their values.
White Deer Ranch is growing and by thinking creatively and farming intentionally, they are making a living in sustainable agriculture in Montana. One new idea they’re looking into is using their water source to build a micro-hydro system to provide power for their operations. I look forward to seeing what they come up with and helping them share their results.
If you get a chance, check out their place. They are warm hosts and are happy to share their story and ideas, and they seem to love to hear the creative and intentional ways people are farming sustainably, and I’m sure they would love to here your story, as well.