Learning never stops at Buffalo Ranch

by nathan oster

It’s been another busy and productive summer at the Buffalo Ranch, where coordinator Dean Waddell and his team of young workers are providing the tender, loving care required to produce a bumper crop of produce for the community.

“You have to check out our cucumbers,” Waddell said.

Ripe and hanging off the vine by the dozens, they are the poster childs of this year’s crop of produce. It will have to go some to match last year’s crop, which netted the kids 48 ribbons at the county fair and Evelyn Clayton grand champion honors for an onion that she grew at the ranch.

This is the eighth year that the Buffalo Ranch has been in the farming business.

Started by Cathy Kunkel, the ranch has seen its workers come and go.

Waddell rattled off names like Rusty Slife, Matt Franken, Taylor Ballard and Brooke Bergstrom. All helped launch the ranch.

“We’ve just kept it going,” said Waddell.

Modeled after the Special K Ranch in Montana, which is geared for adults with special needs, the Buffalo Ranch started small. It has since expanded to two greenhouses, not to mention the elevated beds where produce is currently thriving.

Produce that is grown at the Special K ends up in supermarkets in Billings.

Waddell said the same is happening here. Among the businesses with an interest in using produce from the ranch is Los Gabanes, the Mexican restaurant in downtown Greybull which needs things like tomatoes, tomatillos and cilantro.

Waddell said he’s also exploring ways to expand the Buffalo Ranch. One might be through the sale of sagebrush, which he called “a natural fit” for the location. He said he’s spoken with officials from Wyo-Ben and MI-SWACO who have expressed interest in using sagebrush grown at the ranch at their reclamation sites.

Waddell said he and Chris Morency started planting in March, while school was in session.

Some of the kids helped in the spring.

Eight have continued on this summer, including four high schoolers, two middle schoolers and two elementary students. For the high schoolers, it’s a summer job. They work every day, coming in at 8 a.m. and leaving at noon, and they get paid for it thanks to a special education grant that the school receives from the state.

The middle schoolers don’t come in quite as much — usually just a couple hours on Tuesdays and Thursdays — but they enjoy it every bit as much as the older kids, according to Waddell.

Laura Connor, who is in her third summer of helping Waddell at the ranch, said she has seen the growth in the students, noting that they have to be involved in the planning, listen and follow instructions and work as a team. Just like they would for any job, they fill out time sheets and learn what it feels like to hold a job.

And as a bonus, Waddell added that students who are normally quiet and reserved in school “open up” while working and interacting with others at the ranch. They also enjoy the fruits of their labors. “If they grow it, they will eat it,” he laughed.

When the growing and showing (at the fair) season ends, the kids will put on their sales hats to market their produce. In that way, they see their work through to completion, another valuable lesson.

“I think it’s important for kids to realize that they can grow their own food,” said Connor.

Waddell said that as successful as the ranch has become, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community. He said Hunt Construction did all the concrete work for the two greenhouses, that Big Horn Co-op and Shopko have donated seeds, and that the Greybull Elks Lodge occasional allowed students to cook dinner for them and keep the money they generate that night.

“We’ve gotten a lot of help along the way,” said Waddell.