Montana Wheat Farmer

Baking, Heroes, Local Heroes, Recipes
on September 1, 2008

Montana farmer Alvin Rustebakke is the new American farmer, having transformed a three-generation family spread on the High Plains into an organic paradise. Discharged from the army in August 1945, Rustebakke returned to his family’s 1,500-acre farm outside Scobey with his “city-gal” wife, Dorothy. The newlyweds soon bought the 240 acres adjacent to his father’s wheat-and-barley spread; the two generations worked side by side, using traditional agricultural methods for 34 years. After his father’s death, the land was incorporated into one operation.

One day in the mid-1970s, Rustebakke got to thinking that something was off. “Here I was spraying my wheat with poison,” he says in his gravelly twang, “and we were eating this stuff—and feeding it to other people, too.”

So, in 1979, when his friends were thinking about retirement, Rustebakke kicked into high gear and transformed his spread into a certified organic farm growing hard red spring wheat. “The Cadillac of wheat,” he says. “You won’t find any better.”

To match his new harvest, Rustebakke bought a brand new granite stone mill, which doesn’t crush the wheat the same way steel rollers can. Today, Rustebakke’s son John has taken over most of the farming duties; Alvin and Dorothy work in packaging and distribution, selling their organic whole-wheat and golden wheat flours, wheat bran, and unground wheat berries, terrific for adding a nutty crunch to soups and salads. Theirs is an on-going success story, three generations of American farming, adapting and changing to meet the times.

By Bruce Weinstein and Mark Scarbrough, food writers in Colebrook, Conn.