VICTOR — While restaurants, resorts, and other venues were suspended due to the pandemic, local farmers felt the effects firsthand as they could no longer sell their products locally.
A leader in agriculture, Montana boasts of nearly 60 million acres of farmland what other states consider ranchers and farmers, we call our neighbors.
Falling into that category is Allison Dembek, the head cheese maker for Tucker Family Farms in Victor Montana. She’s one of the thousands whose livelihood lies on the farm, so when the pandemic hit Missoula and her team could no longer sell the bulk of their product to local restaurants and resorts, she knew things were going downhill quickly.
"The last two weeks of March like the two weeks after it was announced, we essentially watched our sales go to zero," said Dembek.
Tucker Family Farms is known for their grass fed lamb, pastured pork, and sheep cheese. This year they had plans to double the size of their operation. They even took out a loan to build two new barns.
"And so we get kind of set this year, and had started producing milk this year to try to double our business," Dembek said. "So we immediately were like, okay, that's probably not gonna happen this year."
In true Montana fashion, Tucker Family Farms rolled up their sleeves and re-evaluated, ultimately choosing to hold off on their plans for expansion. Dembek told MTN News they had to figure it out, there was no choice.
In the first couple weeks of March, Dembek said they received two important phone calls that changed the outcome of their pandemic story. One was from the Oxbow Cattle Company, the other from Bridge Pizza here in Missoula.
The Oxbow Cattle Company invited Tucker Family Farms to sell their cheese at the Oxbow Farm Stand which generates quite a bit of foot traffic.
The Bridge on the other hand, developed an online market where area farmers can sell their product.
"And they didn't take any of the sales for themselves. It was so selfless and really really helpful and so that was kind of the first step of new sales, when we lost everything else," Dembek said.
Owner of the Bridge Erin McEwen said developing the online market just made sense as they were already well versed in making deliveries.
"In the beginning stages when our lives were incredibly stressful too as we tried to figure out how to adapt our business model to the new needs and requirements, we wanted to make sure that we were not kind of fitting easy in the fact that we were a delivery based business," said McEwen.
The market features everything from coffee and honey to essentials like milk and eggs. McEwen said, "It's really cool to see somebody get you know a pepperoni pizza and a case of beer and a dozen eggs delivered to their front door contact free."
With some creativity, and the help of their fellow Montanans, Tucker Family Farms is getting back on track.