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Farming and ranching have long been a part of Montana’s past and continues to be our number one industry today.

With prices of livestock and crops ever changing, the next generation of ranchers have had to diversify their revenue to make ends meat and keep both parents at home to raise a family.

With National Ag Day on March 23, I reached out to a couple who have dived head first in diversifying their revenue streams.

Cassie from Broadus and Ry from Plevna met in high school during an FFA competition in Baker.. They went on to college and attended Dickinson State University. At college they both attended a meat cutting class where Ry especially took an interest in the trade. After college Ry and Cassie O’Connor got married and moved to Plevna and purchased part of Ry’s family ranch. There they raise cattle and sheep of their own, run a food truck, and added a couple kids too!

 The O’Connor couple started the conversation on how they could add more income to their operation and also help their communities struggling with the fear that COVID was or could cause food shortages; causing people to want to stock up on meat for their freezers. Through researching their options and while scrolling on social media, Cassie came across a Small Business Development post that piqued her interest. Cassie reached out to Tracey Baker in the Miles City SBDC office. From that point other organizations were looped into the process.

The team was made up of Tracey Baker (SBDC), Tami Burke (GNDC-Food and Agriculture Development Center), Beth Epley (EPEDC-Executive Director), Dara Deines (EPEDC-Community Development Specialist), and Shandy Hanks (GNDC-SBDC). Together with Cassie, the team scheduled meetings to explore if the Lames Jones Meats would be eligible for the Meat Processing and Infrastructure Grant that was made available through the CARES funding allotted to the State.  When the grant was not awarded for their project, Ry and Cassie decided to reduce their project and obtain financing on their own.

In September, the O’Connor’s got a call from Jim Auer with the Montana Department of Agriculture that more funds came available and that they would be awarded the $150,000 that they originally applied for. This money helped with getting the building put up. The COVID grant was unique because matching funds were not required for it. With the grant came a deadline to have the building up by the end of year, 2020. Even though they hit the ground running, with having been in contact with contractors, this deadline was going to be a challenge.  Thankfully the deadline was pushed back otherwise according to Ry, “it would have been close, but they wouldn’t have finished in time.”

In November came the opportunity to apply for the Growth Through Agriculture Grant (GTA). This grant is through the Montana Department of Agriculture and usually opens around July and focuses on diversifying Montana’s agriculture industry through development of new agricultural products and processes. This grant requires the investment of at least a dollar-for-dollar match in grant or loan assistance received. The application was for $20,000 for a smoker and sausage stuffer to expand and diversify what Lames Jones Meats would be able to offer. If selected in the top rankings of the grant process, each applicant is required to present to the GTA committee on what their project is about. This was done virtually in February 2021. The beginning of March 2021, Lame Jones Meats was announced as one of the chosen recipients of the GTA grant.

As of today, the O’Connor’s and their contractors are working every day to get Lame Jones up and running as a custom exempt facility with plans to eventually be USDA certified. Ry and Cassie are hoping to open Lame Jones Meats in about two months. With the social media page up and running, they have already received numerous calls and messages. As of right now Lames Jones Meats will be running with Ry and Cassie at the helm and will hire as needed as the business grows.  

When posed the question on what they want new businesses to know before starting, Cassie answered “There are so many free resources available in our area and people need to take advantage of them. The SBDC, EPEDC, and GNDC not only provide business help but also put on workshops that really help as well.”

Lames Jones Meats are excited to be able to serve our local communities. We are local ranchers who understand. Check them out on social media and more information on their opening date.

Alissa Miller is the Food and Agriculture Assistant with Eastern Plains Economic Development Corporation. Alissa’s office is located in Baker, serving the counties of Carter, Fallon, Wibaux, Dawson, and Prairie Counties. Alissa is there to help with grant writing, business planning, trainings, agritourism, or farm to school programs. If you have food and agriculture business or training ideas call or email Alissa at 406-852-3735 or fada@epedc.com.

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