Reseeding and replanting are inherent to farming. Seasons turn and daily tasks shift, but each day has a rhythm, each season a theme. Farmers also have to prepare for the unexpected: a surprise hailstorm or a deadly frost or, in the case of Matt and Jacy Rothschiller, a tragic fire that burned their barn to the ground with twenty-three animals inside. Spring is already a busy time for Gallatin Valley Botanical at Rocky Creek Farm as everyone preps for the short growing season. This year it was made even more hectic with the physical and emotional labor of clearing out animal carcasses and cleaning up debris. Although losing their animals was traumatic, the Rothschillers are committed to salvaging as much material as they can for the rebuild.
“The first couple days after the fire I didn’t even want to touch anything,” Matt said. “But we’re farmers and we try to keep things that are reusable.” They have begun by reclaiming metal roofing material to use as siding for the new barn. The fire occurred April 10. Though the cause is unknown; the Rothschillers speculate that a heat lamp may have exploded or been knocked over. Four days later, the Rothschillers’ longtime friend LaVonne Stucky opened a GoFundMe page asking for donations to help rebuild the barn. Although Bozeman, along with the rest of the nation, was facing looming economic uncertainty from COVID-19, money came flooding in. In just forty-nine hours, they met the $50K goal, which has since been exceeded. Donors included family, friends, and Bozeman citizens, as well as people from around the U.S. who heard about the fire online or through friends.
Help has also come in the form of volunteers.
“Greenspace Landscaping offered to give us a hand to grade the site properly,” Matt said. “And Ben [Lloyd] drives by the farm every day on his way to work.” Lloyd is the founder of local architecture firm Comma Q, which has begun drawing up plans for the Rothschillers’ rebuild. While plans are still tentative, they’ll likely include rebuilding the barn on a higher- elevation site, farther from the East Gallatin River. The old barn’s proximity to a wetland meant that animal refuse filtered into the creek. Now, the Rothschillers have a chance to improve the river’s water quality.
Where the barn stood remains a concrete slab, which will serve as the floor to an open-air events pavilion. This will be a community-centered location for hosting farm dinners, weddings, and other gatherings. The barn was previously a triple-purpose space used to house animals, store wool or pumpkins, and host events.
The Rothschillers are amazed by the community’s swift response to their grim setback. “I think people really value the land as well as what we’ve done with it,” Jacy said. “We feel so honored and grateful to be the stewards of this land.” The Rothschillers hope to carry out the rebuild, which they expect to cost about $120K, in autumn if the COVID-19 pandemic allows. Until then, routine farm work still takes priority.