| TSLN.com

Ian Munsick: From Sheridan to Nashville, Wyoming ranch kid finds success in country music

When Ian Munsick was about 8 years old, he took the stage with his dad and two older brothers at the Best Western in Sheridan, Wyoming. They were hired to play the restaurant and bar that evening. “It wasn’t nighttime because I don’t think any of us three boys were allowed in there after 8,” Munsick said. “It wasn’t for very much money, but I remember somebody put a $10 or $20 bill in my guitar case. My dad was like, ‘That’s yours. You get to keep that.’ When you’re that age, $20 is like a million dollars. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I get to make money doing what I love.’ That’s when I knew I was hooked.”

That night onstage at the Sheridan Best Western started a career for a ranch kid from Wyoming that has since landed Munsick in Nashville. In 2017 he released an independent project, and his song “Horses are Faster” “kind of grew legs on its own.” At this point the song has more than 13 million plays on Spotify alone. That organic growth caught the attention of Warner Music Nashville and in 2020 he signed a contract and made a full-length album, which will be released on country music radio, as well as on-demand streaming services.

“‘Horses are Faster’ was actually the first song that I produced that I thought people would like,” Ian said. “I wrote and recorded it all on my own. It was kind of a case of beginner’s luck. It inspired me to learn more about the craft of engineering and producing my own music, which led to a lot more time in front of the computer, diving into the technology end of music. That definitely changed the way I recorded music and my overall sound as an artist.”

That sound has changed since he left the ranch when he was about 18. “I’m almost 28 years old now. Even if I’d stayed on the ranch, those are extremely transformative years, not only musically, but in anyone’s life. My music definitely changed as I grew up.”

He calls his current sound “a strong handshake between those two worlds,” Wyoming and Nashville. “I’m always looking ahead in terms of what’s going to be next, in terms of pop music. Lyrically, I always go back to my roots of country music, and storytelling and the positive outlook on life. The hardworking, hard-loving community that is country music. It’s a good blend of modern and traditional.”

He lists the Beatles as the number one influence on his music. “I go back to my Beatles records and find new inspiration in their writing and production and their influence on the world.” He also lists western music icon Ian Tyson, Guy Clark’s writing and Bruno Mars’s energy, Ricky Skaggs from the Bluegrass world. “I love all kinds of different music. At the end of the day I’ll always go back home to country music.”

The foundation of his music–and his character–is still the ranch. “The ranch taught me a lot of lessons that are priceless. How to work hard and keep your head down and get the job done, no matter what happens. Hard work, how to stay humble. How to respect not only other people, but the earth and planet. Those three lessons I still carry with me in Nashville.”

Ian says his dad, Dave, would have loved to pursue music full-time. “He’s really talented, but he knew there comes a point where you’ve got to put your wife and kids before you. If you’re going to be able to make your dream work, then great, but being able to put your loved ones before you is another just great, great lesson that growing up on the ranch taught me.”

While Dave never made the big time on his own, he gets to watch all three of his boys make music. Tris, the oldest, has a band called Tris Munsick and the Innocents, and he plays more traditional music. They play mostly around the Rocky Mountain area. Sam, the middle son, “he’s a rancher, through and through. A cowboy through and through,” Ian says. “He kinda lives his life in isolation. He’s a great, great writer, has an amazing voice as well. He’s putting together a new record, which I’m really excited about. He hasn’t really put out music but he has some amazing tunes in his catalog. I think he’s going to do really good things for the country and western world.”

And Dave still gets on stage when he goes to his son’s performances. He usually plays fiddle for “Horses are Faster.” Ian says, “That’s kind of the go-to because he actually fiddled on the record. I feel like a lot of people don’t know that. But that’s usually the song that people know me by as of now. Every time he hops on the stage for the encore and we do that, there’s a wow factor that goes into it. It’s a special thing. He played on the record; it throws me back to the ranch days and playing with him. That’s a really cool thing that we’re able to do.”

Music is still at the center of family gatherings. The boys and their dad do a Christmas concert in Sheridan every year for the last 15 years. They still are invited to cowboy poetry gatherings, like in Elko, Nevada. “There are always opportunities (to play together). We still get to play with each other, but obviously not as much as we used to,” Ian said.

The Munsicks boys’ mom, Trudy, loves to hear her family play, and has always been the manager. “She keeps us in line,” Ian says. “She’s really organized. She just loves to listen to us and keep us on track, keep us on a schedule. That’s her job. Without her we would all definitely not be where we are today.”

The boys all took music lessons from kindergarten on, starting with piano. Ian plays piano, bass guitar, mandolin, banjo and guitar. “Guitar was the one we took after we took piano as young kids. Guitar was the instrument we were always trying to get to because that was the one we always saw our country and country western and cowboy heroes play. Seeing him (Dave) play was even more of an inspiration for us to play.”

Ian says the interest in music came naturally to all three boys, and was encouraged by both parents. “To improve, you always have to be practicing. It was just a natural thing because we were always around it, because Dad would be playing at home.”

And that’s still how it is. “We always have a jam session when we’re home. I was home a couple weeks ago. We had all the new generation of Munsicks there, and my generation and my parents and some uncles, playing music, listening to each other, running around. That definitely still goes down anytime we’re in the room together.”

Ag Pride: From four feet up — The story of Stub Monnens

“The difference between me and the average person is that I see my world from four feet up. The rest sees it from five feet down.”   –Stub Monnens 

Francis “Stub” Monnens was a sheepherder, horseman, and border collie trainer who resided in Ladner, South Dakota for much of his later life. 2019 marked two decades since his passing, but many residents of Buffalo hold fondly to memories of a well-known man. He survived all manner of catastrophes: rattlesnake bites, asthma attacks, runaway teams, and once was drug behind a horse for over a mile near Castle Rock, South Dakota. Most astounding, however, was achieving all that he did while standing just 4’2″ tall. Stub was a dwarf, but he never allowed his “disability” to hinder a life fully lived. 

Stub made his way through life with his animals. He used a team and wagon to build fence, herded sheep with the use of border collies and a saddle horse, traveled horseback instead of in a pickup while testing REA poles in rough country; and made a living raising chukars and pheasants during “retirement”.  

Lex Burghduff said, “Animals trusted Stub. I never remember him spooking a horse or getting kicked. His horses were really accustomed to him. And horses usually trust kids, you know. I’m sure the horses associated him with a kid and trusted him.” Perhaps this is why the pups he sold and the small horses he gave away were so suitable for children. “He gave us the best kid horse we ever had,” said Alicia (Clarkson) Burghduff.  

Stub’s saddle and gear are on display in the Buffalo One Room Schoolhouse & Museum. His chaps are shorter than the average person’s arm. His saddle was custom made for him by Ed Satler in 1946, a postman in Lemmon who made saddles to sell in the Gamble Store. It was built out of a 13 x 13” tree. The third stirrup, of course, was built so that he could mount and dismount unaided. In fact, few people can remember Stub asking for help in any task. He alone hitched up teams, saddled horses, pounded posts, and drove his 1950 Dodge pickup (and later vehicles) with the aid of homemade pedal extensions. If he was carpentering with sheets of plywood–a handful for any man–he simply used clamps to extend his grip to the edges. If he had to lift buckets over a sheep panel (chest-height for Stub) he worked it up and down by sticking his hands through.  

While working for Deschamps near Castle Rock in 1961, Stub rode bogs to ensure no ewes were stuck in the tricky Butte County soil, which gave way at times. Finding one, he tied his rope hard to the horn and dismounted. He placed the loop over the ewe’s head to gently pull her out, but he tripped in the process. His horse spooked, pulled back, and Stub stepped into the loop. Jewel drug him all the way back to the gate as fast as she could run. His shirt remained buttoned and protected his hands and face, but the bare flesh of his torso picked up one mile’s worth of greasewood splinters, cactus, and grass burns.  

Jewel waited patiently at the gate and Stub released himself from what could have been a noose around his foot. Getting back to the pickup, he realized the battery was dead. He waited a whole day for the feed truck to come, so he doctored his wounds with baking soda and unguentine. The feed man came for chores the next day and brought him into town, and the doctor in Newell picked splinters out of him for an hour before giving up and sending him to Belle Fourche. Stub laid in that hospital for five weeks.  

Stub worked at Belle Fourche Livestock in 1978 after a brief trial period with his working dogs. He so impressed the owners, Dean Strong and Bob Petra, that they hired him four days per week for sheep and cattle sales. Once when he was gathering cattle that were loose in the parking lot, he came off the side of his horse, colliding with a corner post. The concussion resulted in memory loss for weeks and left him with double vision that halted his leatherworking, a favorite pastime, forever. Years later, Mert and Sue Clarkson gave Stub a vehicle to drive. Some concerned neighbors berated them, asking, “Why would you give a blind man a car?” They defended Stub, saying, “He’s not blind. He just can’t see very well.”  

Dwarfism often comes with health problems, including arthritis and asthma, though most with the condition have a normal life expectancy. When he was a child, Stub’s parents moved back and forth from Firesteel, South Dakota and Madison, Minnesota when the western homestead would not go. When he was 19, Stub settled west of the Missouri to avoid the humidity and persistent asthma attacks he suffered as a teenager. He never said so, but he almost surely had arthritis in his aging years due to his stature and his lifestyle. Yet, he never quit. He merely began work on something else.  

When he was unable to herd sheep anymore, Stub worked as an REA pole tester in the Opal, Stoneville, and Marcus areas. In 1987, he began his mission to repopulate Harding County with Chinese Ring-Necked Pheasants. Locals used to say, “You won’t see a pheasant west of Highway 85.” Then Stub raised them by the thousands–the remnants of which still linger in the Ladner area. He told Nation’s Center News in an interview, “I feel very good about what I could be doing to help preserve a great bird and at the same time help control some of the grasshoppers.”  

A 70th birthday party was held for Stub in the Bullock Hall with 415 guests. His special friend, Stella, whom he met at a Little People of America conference, popped out of his birthday cake, herself standing just 3’10” tall. Stub passed away five years later in 1999, leaving warm memories of his love of a cup of coffee, conversation, and God’s creatures.  

Ag Pride: SOLD! Looking back at 85 years of Central Livestock

Wednesdays aren’t the same anymore in West Fargo, N.D. 

It was sale day at Central Livestock, but after 85 years of selling cattle, hogs and sheep, the sale barn closed its doors for good on November 30 of last year. 

There was little warning of the closure, said Kelly Klein, manager of the barn and one of its auctioneers.  

“We were doing dang good business, and they called and said in two weeks you have to lock the doors and shut it down,” he recalled. “I begged them, ‘why can’t we stay open till spring?’ We’ll do eighty percent of our volume in the next few months, and we’ll have time to plan our closure. They wouldn’t hear it.” 

The reason for the closing, Klein surmises, is mostly because of the sale barn’s location. When it was built in 1935, the town of West Fargo wasn’t close. But now the town has grown up around the sale barn, Klein said. “In the last ten years, we’ve been surrounded by buildings and businesses. It boils down to where the property is more valuable than our business was.” 

Tony Heinze was auctioneer at Central for 53 years, starting as back pen help in 1965. After attending auctioneer school in 1967, he started auctioneering that year. He remembers getting $5 a day as pay when he worked in the alleys, and quipped, “when I finished 53 years later, the pay wasn’t much different.”  

At one time the eighth largest sale barn in the nation, more than 300,000 head ran through the gates at Central per year. Heinze remembers, in the 1970s, when the yards were full of cattle, with no more room to unload, and trucks lined up for two miles, waiting to unload. He remembers one time, starting a sale at 9 a.m. on a Wednesday and finishing the next morning at 7:30 a.m., running nearly 6,500 head through the ring.  

When the sale barn opened in 1935, six different commission firms bought cattle, hogs and sheep by private treaty. Those firms were McDonald, Central, Farmers Union, Montgomery and Sons, Dakota Livestock, and Sig Ellingson. 

In 1962, the sale barn went to a live auction, and eventually the business was purchased by Central Livestock, with headquarters in St. Paul, Minn.  

“It takes a lot of money to operate” a sale barn, Heinze said. “As soon as I say, ‘sold,’ the guy selling cattle gets a check and they’re in the bank that day. Well, their check has to be good. And if they bought cattle for someone else, it takes a while for that check to be sent in.” Heinze estimates a sale barn needs a couple million dollars for a line of credit. “We had $3, $4 million sales. There’s a lot of money turned.”  

The people at Central became like family, Heinze said. “They were good friends. It was a great time in my life.”  

Order buyer Larry Christiansen had a longer history at Central than anyone else. 

The West Fargo native had spent 62 of his 81years working at the sale barn.  

He started straight out of high school, working for McDonald Livestock, putting hay in the mangers, scraping the alley, “what an eighteen-year-old kid does,” he said.  

In 1986, he opened his order-buyer company there, buying feeder cattle.  

“That’s 62 years I’ve been going to the stockyards there.”  

He remembers when the ring scale was installed in August of 1971, the first sale barn in the state (and one of the first in the nation) to have a ring scale. Prior to that, the way the sale barn is set up, the animals were weighed after the sale. “You’d try to figure out what they weighed in your head. That left something to be desired, sometimes. The ring scale was a real accomplishment.”  

The closest sale barns are Devils Lake to the north, Jamestown to the west, Bagley, Minn. to the east, and Aberdeen and Sisseton to the south. Klein went to work for the Napoleon sale barn, and Christiansen is still buying cattle, but driving a lot farther to do it. “There are guys calling me, telling me we’ve bought their cattle in the past in the sale ring, and telling me where they decided to go, if I want to follow. Sometimes a guy can do it, sometimes a guy can’t.” 

Christiansen has bought cattle at the Jamestown and Bagley sales, but the driving is getting to be a problem. “At my age, it’s getting a little harder to drive two hours to get to the sale and drive two hours to get back home again.”  

He remembers seeing a picture in the Central Livestock office, of its grand opening in 1935. It was Depression days, when “nobody had anything,” and Central offered a free meal, cooking 30 steers and 7,000 lbs. of meat in the ground and brewing the coffee in a big water tank. “There’s a picture of 300, 400 cars that came out there. I think the cabs were giving free rides from Fargo to the yards. It must have been quite a situation.”  

He, like Heinze, remembers some long days. “There were times, in the 1980s and ’90s, during some of those bigger runs, you’d be there till 1, 2 or 3 in the morning. You wouldn’t get much sleep before you’d have to go back to work. Put on a clean pair of pants and head back.”  

The sale barn had five full-time employees and on sale days, about 22 total. Many of the part-time sale day workers were N.D. State University college students and local ranchers. “You know, we had loyal workers,” Klein said, “a lot that had been around for thirty-plus years.”  

Heinze pointed out that stockyards in several big cities: St. Paul, Minn., Chicago, Sioux Falls, and Omaha, all faced the same demise. “The cities grew up around the stockyards,” and the stockyards eventually closed. “There’d be somebody who would buy a lot, build a house next to the stockyards, and not want to smell cows.”  

Everything in the sale barn was auctioned off by Kelly Klein Auction Service. The wood was reclaimed, to be sold later, and by January 1, a development corporation took over the property. “Everything’s gone except for a few piles of cement,” Klein said.  

It hurt when Central closed, Christiansen said. “It was kind of a jab in my heart.  

“My wife was asking me, when we were driving (to the sale barn) to take a look, how many times have you driven down this road to get there? I would hate to guess how many times I went down that road.  

“It’s an unfortunate thing that they had to sell it, but that’s life and it goes on.”  

Ag Pride Editorial: Time to be Ag Proud

Ag pride. Most of us are proud of what we do. We’re proud of the products we produce, the way we produce them, the lifestyle we live and the legacy we pass on.

Not everyone gets to stay in production agriculture. But no one gets out without being shaped by it. From work ethic to understanding where food comes from, the benefits of exposure to ranch life are life-long.

Unfortunately, a lot of states are being increasingly governed by those who don’t understand production agriculture, and create policy that reflects that disconnect. Colorado is one of those states that has prompted ag producers to spend time they don’t have, trying to fight this ignorant, agenda-driven legislation, and educating the public about the true stories of agriculture.

The recent MeatOut declared in Colorado, when the governor asked residents to go meatless on March 20, was one of those calls to action. Governors in surrounding states, cattlemen’s organizations, FFA chapters and individual producers and businesses claimed the day as MeatIn, a celebration of meat, meat producers and the economic benefits of both.

It was heartening to see communities gather to celebrate agriculture, the industry that creates value in these states, and swells the economies of communities, states and the country.

But that’s not enough. We need to keep telling the stories of agriculture, daily. Whether we’re at our kids’ baseball practice, in line at the grocery store or interacting on social media, we need to keep sharing the positive, true stories of what makes us proud to be producers.

Ag Pride 2021

Ag Pride 2020

From spirits to sanitizer: Distilleries make hand sanitizer to deal with COVID-19 shortages

The panic buying and hoarding in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 outbreak, has led to a shortage of many cleaning, disinfecting and sanitizing products. Even hospitals and doctors’ offices have run short and the manufactures are unable to keep up with the high demand. In response to the shortage the federal government has temporarily waived regulations to allow distilled spirits plants (DSPs) the ability to produce hand sanitizer. The distilleries have to follow the Food and Drug Administration’s formula of at least sixty percent denatured alcohol and having no dyes, fragrances or lotions added.  Rising up to help fill the need, small distilleries across the nation have stepped up to the challenge of changing their production from hard spirits to hand sanitizers. 

Badlands Distillery in Kadoka, South Dakota has switched gears from making bourbon to producing hand sanitizer. “After hearing some national news about the different shortages caused by the virus, we asked around at our local businesses how their supply of sanitizer had been and were surprised to hear they too were having trouble getting the product,” said Sandra Eschenbacher, Marketing and Sales Manager for Badlands Distillery. “I couldn’t imagine hospitals and nursing homes and other frontline people rationing sanitizer or having no supply at all. In the week preceding, we received multiple updates from the TTB (Treasury Tax Bureau, governing distilleries) and distillery groups through emails who were encouraging distilleries to help out. We felt we had the facility and capability and decided to go full steam ahead knowing that we would have to iron out the snags, we were sure to hit, along the way,”       

They weren’t prepared for the response to the announcement they were making hand sanitizer. 

“After we got a few days into the project, we realized just how severe the need was state wide, as hundreds of calls and emails poured in. We were lucky to have a big quantity of 1.75ml bottles on hand normally used for liquor production that we decided to get started with. We did hit a few delays in trucking shipment of glycerin, a few challenges with regulations, FDA, additional licensing, labeling, etc. but overall we worked through it. Quickly we realized we would need much more product to fulfill the orders. Ringneck Energy stepped in to help provide sales of product to meet the demands of manufacturing sanitizer,” Eschenbacher said.   

Badlands Distillery never imagined the turn this would take in their business. They ran their first still run on Jan. 1, 2016 and released their first two-year aged bourbon last May. They currently self-distribute throughout South Dakota to many liquor stores and several bars and are always adding to their list.  Along with barrels of traditional bourbon they have rye whiskey and brandy aging in barrels that will be released at some date in the future, as it takes time to mature.  

“The corn used in our bourbon mash is grown on the ranch. We are grateful for all our businesses that continue to support us in carrying our spirits and the patrons who enjoy them. And mostly we depend on everyone’s patience as we work to get the sanitizer out to the public,” Eschenbacher said. 

Lazy RW Distillery in Moorefield, Nebraska, was founded in August of 2015, by father and son team Bill and Todd Roe.  What started out as a fascination with old journals from a great uncle, who operated a still on the Niobrara River in prohibition days, has now become a fully licensed whiskey distillery. “Dad and I started this hobby in his shop, and then since the government wouldn’t let us operate that close to a home we moved to the old school in Moorefield,” Todd Roe said. “I was a structural engineer for nine years before going full time in this business. There are four of us working here and we have a huge following now in Nebraska and South Dakota. We use Nebraska corn but since we are selling in South Dakota now, we just purchased corn from there. We are a small distillery with huge standards of quality. We look forward to providing a high-end product for many years to come.” 

After the government changed the rules allowing distilleries to manufacture sanitizer, the Roes were on board with changing their products.  

With most hand sanitizer being very drying to the skin, Lazy RW sanitizer uses xanthan gum, which leaves hands soft and non-irritated.   

“The biggest thing we had to do was bottling and using smaller bottles than we use for our whiskey. We ended up using bottles we had on hand for another project. We try to be fair and keep the costs down. We are covering our costs, but it has been tight. Just making the conscious decision that we aren’t going to be making much money but we are going to stay afloat and everyone still has a job,” Roe said. 

“The reason we decided to keep the cost down was for small businesses,” he said. “And trust me for a guy who has used maybe two squirts of hand sanitizer in my life, it has been a big adjustment to be making it now.” 

For the sanitizer they are using the corn sugar made in Brady, Nebraska by Casey Miller that would be used ordinarily to produce whiskey. The sugar is transported to Moorefield for the distilling process. So far they have produced over four hundred gallons with 80 percent going to small businesses, nursing homes, Nebraska State Patrol, local sheriff offices and first responders.

Food service: Local vendors innovate to survive

It’s true that crisis can drive innovation – just think of the space team of Apollo 13, miraculously reconfiguring oxygen tanks. As Covid-19 has swept the globe disrupting systems from health care to education to food supply, small business owners have had to either innovate – or watch their company struggle for air.  

Distilleries and skin care companies have become hand sanitizer manufacturers. Specialty boutiques are hosting pop-up sales events online. Restaurants have shifted to curb-side pickup.   

In the rural, central Minnesota town of Brooten, Alise Sjostrom and her family own and operate Redhead Creamery. Two months ago they were a thriving dairy and destination artisan cheese shop, built on a dream Sjostrom had since childhood to return to her family farm and make cheese. In 2013 she crafted her first batch of farmstead cheese and in 2014 opened the processing facility, complete with an underground pipeline that carries milk still warm off the cow to curdling vats. The tasting room offers “ridiculously good” cheese trays, craft beer and tours, and serves as an idyllic event center. 

“We are kind of a shop in the middle of nowhere,” says Sjostrom. “We’ve found it’s the journey that brings people out here.” Their customers come from the Twin Cities and other urban areas to participate in the culinary and agritourism experience. Redhead Creamery marketed their wares – aged cheddars, whiskey washed munster, creamy brie and fresh curds – primarily to restaurants through a distributor.  

“Well, that was what we normally did,” says Sjostrom. In mid-March as the virus spread, everything changed drastically. 

Redhead Creamery was doing a limited amount of direct sales to customers – but suddenly it became their means of survival. They launched paid advertising, mapped out a delivery route and started packing up coolers in the back of pickup beds. “Now we are literally delivering cheese to our customers’ doors or meeting them somewhere where we can safely transfer their order,” says Sjostrom. Their primary routes include to the Twin Cities as well as Sioux Falls, S.D., with stops along the way. 

“It was something we quickly decided to try out of necessity; we needed to get our bills paid and have cash flow.”  

The idea exploded – in a good way. Sjostrom says they have been overwhelmed with sales and while the national quarantine has meant boredom for a lot of people, “we are feeling a little overwhelmed, and we could really use a nap.” 

She said the support from as far as three states around them has been amazing. “No one wants to go into stores right now, and they also want to support small, local businesses,” she says. “We’re encouraged by all the people who want us to keep rolling.” 

Sjostrom says even though the short-term is so successful they laughingly wish they were making butter and bottling milk as well, they don’t have a clear idea of what long-term will look like. She says large-scale, continued delivery would have to include designated employees and specialized delivery trucks. 

“It will be interesting to see if people’s buying habits change or not once we get through this,” she says. “I don’t know what that will look like.”  

As Redhead Creamery started packing ice chests with cheese, several states away in Bozeman, Mont., Jamie Van Dyke and her business partners of Produce Depot, a wholesale, locally-raised fruit and vegetable distribution business, also knew they had to start packing – one way or another.  

Two months before COVID-19 hit, the partners had finalized an expansion of their business from the Big Sky and Bozeman area, where they worked strictly on a wholesale basis, to Billings. “The timing couldn’t have been worse – we had just signed a lease on this huge warehouse,” says Van Dyke. But when the Big Sky resorts that comprised the majority of their business closed completely they started thinking outside the bag and shifted from a wholesale to a retail mindset almost overnight. 

“Our initial idea was to do a ‘community supported agriculture’ type offering out of our wholesale locations, where people come in and fill their own bags with produce for a flat $30 fee,” says Van Dyke. They quickly realized they were not dialed in on the costs and profit margins of people filling their own bags. However, that was soon a moot point when Montana’s shelter-in-place edict was issued.  

So they shifted to a pick-up option – customers would order a $30 bag and Produce Depot controlled the contents – which they offered out of their warehouses in both Bozeman and Billings. “That went well, so we decided to add a delivery route,” says Van Dyke. “It took off like crazy.” 

They started by delivering 20 bags a day and have now capped orders at 250 in each location, with about 170 of those deliveries. “We have demand for way more, but we have maxed out on our staff and capacity for the time being,” she says. 

Even though Produce Depot shifted gears on the go, it wasn’t an overnight success.  

“The first time we did residential deliveries, we were like: ‘What are we doing? This is way too much work and we’re losing money!’” says Van Dyke. The team reevaluated inputs and organizational structure, adding a website to take orders and payment – eliminating 500-600 daily emails and 15-hour work days. “It’s working great now and it’s making money, but it took a lot to survive to get to this stage.”  

They try and buy local as much as possible, and are open to ideas of local products that match their model. Van Dyke says for her and her partners, there was no choice but to innovate. 

“We had all put everything we have into this venture, and if it didn’t work we were screwed. We had no other option. We put our heads together said ‘We have to figure this out,’” but it has been a rough couple of weeks.” 

Van Dyke says the fact that all three of them grew up in Montana – she was raised on a registered Angus ranch near Bozeman – provided a similar foundation of hard work ethic for their team, which got them through the late nights and long days. And there are some silver linings. 

“I think this pandemic is going to make the local food movement stronger. If there’s anything positive I’ve seen it’s local people coming together and supporting local businesses,” Van Dyke says. “I wouldn’t call the virus a blessing because what is going on in the world right now is not a blessing, but it did make our business stronger and I think it will make us all stronger.” 

Safety at “Steak”: Restaurants adapt to COVID-19 restrictions

While innumerable businesses have been forced to close during the COVID-19 quarantine, restaurants have been allowed to remain open, but with restrictions enforced. Many restaurants have adapted to serving with minimal contact, however, this doesn’t mean business in this climate is automatically booming.

The Branding Iron Steakhouse, Belle Fourche, South Dakota

The Branding Iron Steakhouse in Belle Fourche has adapted to the quarantine demands, however, owner Toni Moncur said they are doing less than 50 percent of the business they were prior. They’ll keep pushing on, she said, and find ways to creatively serve the customers.

“We’ve had a lot of take-out orders,” Moncur said. “They’re staying home and not going out to eat and pushing the envelope.”

Her employees have naturally weeded themselves out to a manageable number given the minimized work load. Many were college students attending Black Hills State University who have returned home due to termination of on-campus classes, saving Moncur from having to make any cuts.

Several customers who have missed the fine dining experience received at The Branding Iron Steakhouse have found a way to get the same experience while keeping safe distances.

“Some people pulled in and had us deliver to their living quarters horse trailer one week, and the next, it was a stock trailer. They just had a table set in there and ate out there,” Moncur said. “They could still dine-in, still be able to sit down and enjoy a meal.”

Texas Roadhouse

In addition to smaller adaptations, such as transitioning entirely to to-go orders, restaurants within the Texas Roadhouse chain have enacted larger temporary changes. Following their own company desire to support and better their towns, Texas Roadhouse has supported workers on the frontline helping those affected by the virus where possible through provided home-cooked meals, supporting employees through “Roadie bonuses” and refraining from having to make cuts, said Travis Doster, vice-president of communication with Texas Roadhouse. The CEO Kent Taylor made the decision to forego his salary and bonus and was followed by several other executives within the company, Doster said.

“We’ve delivered food to frontline employees and nurses at the hospitals, fire stations, and police stations,” Doster said. “In this case, we can’t find a cure; we can’t help those victims, but we can feed those who are trying to do that.”

Prior to the pandemic, less than 10 percent of Texas Roadhouse’s orders were to-go. Now, 100 percent is to-go, which has posed a small challenge in terms of to-go supplies. The company is adjusting, and they have had very few issue sourcing food, meaning that one item in particular has been a real draw for guests.

“We have had a lot of demand for purchasing our ready-to-grill steaks,” Doster said. “We already have a meat cutter in every location, so that has been phenomenal.”

Governors across the states have allowed for the selling of raw meat through restaurants to be permitted to help alleviate protein shortages in grocery stores. Some Texas Roadhouse locations are also setting up a farmer’s market of sorts, selling produce alongside steaks, as well as offering family value packs, a home-cooked meal that serves four to six.

Extra measures have been set up to ensure the chance of exposure is minimized. To start, Roadhouse employees work in shifts with the same employees. If one employee presents with Corona symptoms, all staff from that shift would be vetted or quarantined. The expected practices are also in place, such as face masks, glasses, gloves, and six feet between people, but employees have found ways to insert joy into the regulations.

“Our employees have put smiley faces on masks, or they’re doing cool designs. In this time, seeing employees that are happy and have a lot of energy makes people feel good,” Doster said. “One store wrote hearts on the floor, so everyone would stand in their heart, six feet apart. We rolled out a program called ‘legendary service, six feet apart’.”

While sanitization is nothing new to the restaurant industry, Texas Roadhouse has heightened its practices. Pens are sanitized after each use, and, if desired, employees place to-go orders directly into a trunk or backseat of a vehicle.

“A lot of people say restaurants are a luxury, but I think we’ve realized that’s not necessarily the case. It’s a big part of the food supply,” Doster said. “I think guests have really appreciated our early efforts in safety.”

The Outpost, Lusk, Wyoming

Much like Texas Roadhouse, The Outpost Café in Lusk, Wyoming, has found a way to provide groceries and supplies to their customers. The town with only one grocery store has experienced several outages despite efforts to keep the shelves stocked, so The Outpost has stepped forward as a secondary source.

“We just ordered a few extra things for groceries, stuff that we noticed the grocery store has been out of and hard to get,” said manager Shadow Smith. “We’ve just been trying to offer it here.”

Patrons within Niobrara County, the least populated in the state of Wyoming, have taken advantage of the staple offerings, such as flour, eggs, gravy, beef, bacon, and bread, and The Outpost has expanded to take-out orders and delivery, a service not offered prior to the quarantine. Online ordering or calling in are also options.

“We’re offering free delivery right now so that people aren’t scared to come out, and we have thermal bags we use for delivery,” Smith said. “We’ve all taken ServSafe courses, and we wear gloves and masks when in contact with other people less than six feet away.”

From vehicles to ventilators: Ford, GM gear up to manufacture medical equipment to combat COVID-19

Production at Ford and General Motors plants across the nation has shifted from cars and trucks to medical equipment, to combat COVID-19. 

While automotive sales have tanked since the pandemic hit the U.S. in mid-March, Ford and GM are still up and running. 

But they’re not making cars and trucks. They’re manufacturing ventilators, medical face shields, PAPRs (powered air-purifying respirators), re-usable hospital gowns, and face masks. 

For Ford, the “a-ha” moment came when president and CEO Jim Hackett was talking to White House staff about the impact of the pandemic on the auto industry. As they discussed the shortage of ventilators, he blurted out, “Maybe Ford should help make ventilators.”  

Ford is partnering with GE Healthcare and Airon, a Florida-based company that makes pneumatic life support products. GM has teamed up with Ventec, located in Washington State, a company that has developed a portable personal ventilator. 

The transition from autos to ventilators took a bit of doing. Assembly lines with robotic welding machines and power drills morphed into work benches with hand tools.  

And workers needed training, too. “You’ve got to bring 1,200 people up to speed on processes they’ve not ever done before,” Gerald Johnson, GM’s global manufacturing chief, told the Wall Street Journal.   

The automakers had to secure inventory as well. No single contractor makes all ventilator pieces; they are made by different subcontractors, so aligning inventory for each piece required some time and effort.  

At GM’s idled plant in Kokomo, Ind., a facility that made electronic components for engine controls and air bags, hundreds of workers set up to make the Ventic Life Systems V+Pro critical care ventilator.  

In Ypsilanti, Mich., Ford workers are assembling their parts of the ventilator in a building that used to see production of oil pumps and hybrid-car batteries, and in Flat Rock, Mich., workers are assembling PAPRs.  

Medical device assembly requires oversight by the FDA, who ensures quality. Ventilators are made to sustain life; they cannot be poor quality. “There’s a tracking system you have to meet (when ventilators are assembled), and you have to take the time to do a documentation for a ventilator,” Pamela Fry, vice-president of Airon Corp., told Forbes magazine. Assembling a ventilator requires precision. “There’s been a lot of talk about building ventilators overnight,” Chris Brooks, Chief Strategy Officer for Ventec, told Forbes magazine, “but a ventilator is much more than moving air in and out. If you’re giving the patient too much air and you’re overinflating the lungs, it can cause harm or death. And if you’re underinflating the lungs, you can cause harm or death.”  

The automakers brought their own unique skill set to manufacturing. Hackett, Ford’s CEO, pointed out that they are exceptional at gathering inventory and manufacturing in a short time frame.  “How do you get disparate pieces to be assembled and moved out? Automotive has perfected doing this, so you’re not sitting on billions of dollars of inventory.”   

Henry Ford designed the assembly line 107 years ago, and that is a help to making ventilators and other devices more quickly. Ventilators weren’t designed for high-volume production, and ventilator companies have limited supply chains because the machines are produced in small numbers.  

Hackett explained what Ford is capable of. “With our supply chain, we build an F150 every 52 seconds. This is a machine with a price of $70,000 to $100,000 per copy, so it’s more complex than a ventilator.”  

Ventec’s Brooks understood what GM had to offer his company, in terms of manufacturing ventilators. “It was immediately understood that they could bring a lot to the table, as far as helping us with the supply chain, and bringing new suppliers to source more quickly. GM understands mass production.” Production of ventilators has been a small-scale process, but not with GM and Ford helping out. “We immediately started thinking outside the box: how can we ramp up production?”  

Ford is doing more than making ventilators. In mid-April, they began producing face shields at their Plymouth, Mich. factory, PAPRs, face masks and re-usable gowns for health care workers.  

The gowns, made of silicone-coated nylon, can be washed and reused up to fifty times. The material for the gowns is supplied by one of Ford’s airbag suppliers, with 1.3 million of them cut and sewn by early July. The face masks will be certified for medical use.  

Ford is also providing manufacturing expertise to Thermo Fisher Scientific, a company in Massachusetts that makes scientific instruments and consumables for the healthcare and laboratory industry, allowing them to quickly expand production of COVID-19 collection kits to test for the virus.  

Ford experts in manufacturing, purchasing and supply chain have been working with 3M manufacturers to help increase production of other medical supplies needed for the pandemic.  

Ford and GM are not profiting from sales of the medical devices. Both companies hope to have their costs covered. “We’re not looking for a contract,” Hackett said. “We have a verbal agreement that will be transparent and ethical about the cost, and we really don’t want to profit from this. It’s just not the time for profit. We’ve just put our head down, and we’re building.”  

The auto makers are ensuring their own workers are safe from the virus. They are stationed at least six feet apart and will wear medical grade face masks. Even with the risk of infection, more than 500 volunteered to work at Ford’s Dearborn, Mich. location.  

It isn’t the first time U.S. automakers have volunteered to help in the face of national emergencies. During World War II, GM built tanks and ammunition while Ford made B-24 Liberator bombs. In the 1940s, Ford developed an “iron lung” for polio patients.  

The companies are putting “the pedal to the metal” in getting devices built. More than 100,000 face shields per week, starting in mid-April, were produced by Ford. Alongside Airon, Ford plans on producing 50,000 ventilators by July 4, and GM, with Ventec’s help, has a goal of producing 10,000 ventilator units a month. GM also has a contract to deliver 30,000 ventilators for the national stockpile by the end of August. Ford is making 100,000 medical gowns a week, and as of mid-April, had already made more than three million face shields.  

The automotive giants were happy to join up to help those fighting COVID-19. 

“We knew that to play our part helping combat coronavirus, we had to go like hell and join forces with experts like 3M to expand production of urgently needed medical equipment and supplies,” said Jim Baumbick, vice president of Ford Enterprise Product Line Management. “We’ve unleashed our world-class manufacturing, purchasing and design talent to get a scrappy start making personal protection equipment and help increase the availability and production of ventilators.”