BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — Looking from a bird’s-eye view, Bozeman’s history as a farm town can still be seen in certain pockets of wide, open spaces around the city.
Hay bales dot fields on 19th Avenue and Huffine Lane year after year, despite increased pressure on farmers to sell that land to accommodate the area’s surging growth. And while selling could yield a huge profit, some landowners are determined to hold onto what’s considered some of the richest soil in the area.
Kenny Van Dyke, who farms across the valley with his brother, Mark Van Dyke, said the two have a couple of landlords who should get gold medals for not developing their land.
“Some of the land around MSU is going to be ag land forever,” Kenny said.
Some people hold onto the land because they believe in farming and agriculture, some don’t want their homes to change and some developers have people like the Van Dykes farm their land so they can get an agricultural tax credit while they wait for building plans to move forward.
Others, like organic produce farmer Rachael Hicks, do it because they believe in local, sustainable food and want to see the movement grow in Bozeman.
While only 2.7% of Gallatin County’s employees work in agriculture, according to a 2019 Prospera Business Network report, the industry is still an integral part of Bozeman’s past and present. Farmers hope it will be a part of its future, too.
“If you lose optimism, you’re done,” Mark said.
Kenny and Mark get flipped off a lot.
Not for bad driving or a fiery disposition. They farm several chunks of land across the Gallatin Valley and are responsible for the big hay bales dotting fields on 19th Avenue, Kagy Boulevard and for farming between Goldenstein Lane and Nash Road.
This often requires them to drive slowly along some of the city’s busiest streets to move their equipment, something that used to be common in Bozeman but is becoming increasingly difficult as the valley grows and traffic gets busier. The two farmers have learned to just wave at angry passersby.
The brothers are fourth-generation farmers and have worked the land in the Bozeman area all their lives. Growing up, the two helped with the family farming and ranching business. They had a deal with their mom where they would work hard so they could get a dirt bike in the spring.
They’ve seen the area change over the years, watching new streets and subdivisions go up in places where they used to drive to get out of town in high school.
It’s hard seeing things change, especially in south Bozeman, where the land is so fertile.
“You’ll see people pulling out foundation, and you’ll see 4 feet of black, not a single rock,” Kenny said.
But at the same time, Mark said they can’t blame people for wanting to live in the place they also love so much. The problem is, when so many houses are built, it fills up the wide open spaces people came here for, Kenny said.
Still, the brothers aren’t going anywhere as long as there’s land to farm.
Despite the ups and downs that come with farming, the brothers love what they do. There’s something special about being your own boss, and dinners in the field are pretty fun — it’s more of a lifestyle than a job, Mark said.
“We’re going to go until the bitter end,” Kenny said.