I’m a Drover: Regenerative Ag with a Twist

( Kay Kennedy )

Sitting just outside of Missoula, Montana, the cattle at Oxbow Cattle Company is grass-fed and finished. For owner/operators Bart and Wendy Morris, treating their herd with the highest standard of care, while maintaining good stewardship of the land they work on is their utmost priority. The cattle graze pasture before being rotated, sometimes daily, to another area to maintain a healthy ecosystem for both the grass and the cows. But sometimes, the herd grazes next to a small building on the property, called the f2m store.

A view of the cattle and f2m.

f2m (short for farm-to-market) was created out of necessity. Prior to its opening Bart was spending a huge amount of time driving around to meet customers in Missoula and the surrounding areas in parking lots and other places to deliver their beef orders.

It’s how f2m is maintained that’s the surprising element of their business model.

While the traditional farmer’s market stall may come to mind, f2m is operated entirely on the honor system, staying open 24/7 365. Customers simply come in with cash, check or a Venmo account and select the Oxbow beef or other locally sourced items the store carries, log what they’re purchasing, and then deposit the total amount in the lock box provided or send payment through Venmo. That’s it. There’s no staff manning the store during designated business hours, aside from the Morrises keeping the beef stocked.

In a day and age where it seems like operating on the honor system would be crazy, it’s working. As they note on their website, “We believe in this because of how you all believe in us.  You trust us to raise beef in the healthiest and most responsible way and we trust in you to make this honor system a success!”

But the benefits are twofold, not only does the store serve a functional purpose, centralizing the pickup and storage of beef orders, it also provides the community with an opportunity for education about sustainable ranching practices, Bart Morris says.

“We want to connect people with where their food is coming from, and there’s no better way to do that than to have them come and see the land and see the cows and what we’re doing. I can tell them whatever I want at a farmer’s market where we’re not on the land, but to have them come see the land, you have to stand behind what you’re saying” he says. “We are big time into regenerative ag. We want to leave the land better than when it came into our control and improve it for the next generations.”

Oxbow Cattle Company offers educational tours to the schools and universities in the area, but where education comes in to f2m is in sharing the full-circle journey of the food chain.

“When they come, people have the chance to see the full-circle of production. It’s the land and soil, to the cows and beef and then ultimately back to the soil,” Morris says.

Since its inception in mid-2018, f2m’s customer base has grown exponentially, with mainly word of mouth promotion, and to Morris it’s a testament to their philosophy working.

The Oxbow Cattle Company and f2m sign.

“We say it takes a community to raise a cow the right way, and we believe the community is standing behind us 100%,” Morris says.

“In this day and age, we want to be able to connect traditional agriculture to regenerative practices. We really care about stockmanship and horsemanship, and grass farming and soil health, and one of the most unique things about us is that we rope and ride and we handle all of our cows only on foot or horseback but yet we run tons of polywire and do MOB or MIG grazing.

“It’s important for us to hang on to the cowboy/cowgirl heritage and tradition because in Montana, everyone is connected to someone who had a ranch or was part of a ranch at one time. We have photos of Wendy roping and branding in f2m. And that’s important to us to not forget where we came from. Wendy has four generations of working ranchers in her family that came ahead of her, so it’s important for us to hang on to that, but move with the times and be better,” he says.

To learn more about Oxbow Cattle Company, check out their website, or Facebook page.

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