Edible Bozeman

Real-life connection transforms the atmosphere of scrolling on your phone and offers the world-weary soul a smile or sparkling eye contact. Here, signs are different and no longer mapped out as green and red flags, but as signals such as buying a bouquet of flowers or going on a gallant traipse. Ships are no longer passing in the night but forming into steamy farmers-market flings and long-term relationships. Farmers markets can be seen as a microcosm for an existing interconnectedness, or one that is yearned for, one that forms communities and natural networks alike.

I met Xan Jarecki from RegenMarket at the farmers market. The fellow Westchester transplant and I connected over sourcing simple local foods from farmers who practice regenerative agriculture. He let me in on a secret: the best eggs in the valley and, even better, sweet creamy milk. Through him I met Alex and Joel Doddridge, the wife-and-husband team who run KnoWhere Farms in Three Forks, Montana.

Alex, 24, and Joel, 27, met through a mutual friend and soon thereafter left their conventional California lives behind in search of fulfillment as part of a larger young farmers quasi-counterculture movement. Alex, without prior experience farming and initially afraid of chickens, left the nursing program she was in and now works the farm daily. Joel, who studied accounting and was on track to become a chiropractor, spends six days a week ranching with his grandfather, Paul Doddridge, who is both his inspiration and the founder of the commercial cattle operation KG Ranch. KnoWhere’s permaculture farm leases land from KG, which was founded in the 1970s. Now in their third year of production, Alex and Joel frequent farmers market booths and supply a local milk club.

Initially waitlisted, I am approaching the one-year mark of membership in the milk club. Crucial to the formation of this club was the passing of the Montana Local Food Choice Act (SB 199) in 2021, which allows farms to sell products like milk to customers under certain conditions. Club, in this sense, is a collection of people who buy either milk or eggs directly from KnoWhere Farms. As with any alluring club, one must understand the process. Here, members are assigned a weekly pickup day and provided the location of one of the secret refrigerators tucked throughout the valley.

This direct-to-consumer distribution model, built by the tireless efforts of the farmers, would not function without the trust and support provided by other network nodes. The refrigerators are housed at residential and commercial properties, where friends of the farm allow members to pick up farm products. As with any good club, surprise amenities abound. I once arrived at my pickup location to be greeted by a sign on the door: “Please take some plums” with an arrow pointing to the tree.

Consistent with all relationships, trust is the basis of participation. With decreased regulatory requirements, informed consumers must count on their farmers to responsibly produce and deliver safe products. The farmers must trust that their methods will produce products that customers will trade convenience and commoditized prices to support. Direct-to-consumer sales now account for less than 1 percent of total farm sales in Montana. I expect this number will increase, as once-strong relationships between the land, its inhabitants, and the stewards brave enough to create from it regain strength.

This is just to say thank you—to those who see and support the value of these simplified relations; to consumers willing to try the milk and know where it comes from; to those who are privileged enough to make conscious purchasing decisions with the knowledge that their dollars and time act as a proxy vote for the systems they support; to ranchers like Joel’s grandfather, who fed and watched over the country while others flocked to cities during the time of industrialization and urbanization; to young farmers like Alex and Joel, who carry the courage to leave a life of comfort and convenience for a labor of love that produces the sweet, simple gifts of the earth (and I promise you the milk, plums, strawberries, and other gifts are so sweet, so delicious). It is in this sweet world where weltschmerz naturally wanes.

Find Alex Doddridge of KnoWhere Farms at the Bozeman Farmers’ Market or email knowherefarms@gmail.com to learn more or join the milk club waitlist.

Related Posts