Sara Hollenbeck:
High Five Meats

  Sara Hollenbeck at home in Molt, Montana.

Sara Hollenbeck at home in Molt, Montana.

Sara Hollenbeck has spent the past five years embracing the chaos that comes with running a ranch, marketing a product and becoming a mom.

Sara, her husband Henry, and her father-in-law Mike Hollenbeck run High Five Meats in Molt, Montana. Together, they manage 2,500 sheep, 200 head of cattle and some goats.

  Henry, Rhett and Sara Hollenbeck (from left to right).

Henry, Rhett and Sara Hollenbeck (from left to right).

“I have a little bit of everything going on,” Sara said.  

Sara went to college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, Calif. and got her degree in Agricultural Business. Once she graduated, she worked in marketing in California’s Central Valley, in the grapevine and nut tree industry. Sara left California five years ago to join Henry on the ranch. She wanted to ease into things the first year to learn as much as she could before trying things out on her own.

“Every season is so different. Every day is so different. It's not like on-the-job training where you get a pamphlet and a book and they tell you, ‘here's how to ranch.’ It's something that you just kind of have to experience. So I was asking a lot of questions and figuring out how things were done,” said Sara.

Sara remembers the first time she trusted herself to do lambing all by herself.

  Lambs in the barn at High Five Meats.

Lambs in the barn at High Five Meats.

“One of my first lambing seasons out here, (I remember) trying to figure out how this all worked. The sheep are all having babies every minute of the day, and it’s mass chaos. I remember I told Henry, ‘okay, tonight, I'm going to do night lambing all by myself.’ I was scared to death, but he needed a night off to sleep and I felt like I was comfortable enough to handle the chaos by myself,” she said. “I go out on my first check, and it’s literally every bad situation that could be happening was happening.”

Sara recalled  reassuring herself, “you are going to get through this, do one thing at a time.”

She tackled one issue after another, nearly in tears due to the frustration with the chaos.

But, little by little, she matched ewes with their babies and the fledgling lambs fed.

“When it was all finished, I just felt like this overwhelming sense of accomplishment,” said Sara.

Since that first solo-lambing night, Sara’s confidence in her work and her scope of duties has grown.

  “Every season is so different. Every day is so different. It's not like on the job training where you get a pamphlet and a book and they tell you, here's how to ranch. It's something that you just kind of have to experience…” says Sara.

“Every season is so different. Every day is so different. It's not like on the job training where you get a pamphlet and a book and they tell you, here's how to ranch. It's something that you just kind of have to experience…” says Sara.

Today, Sara manages all of the marketing for High Five Meats. She does direct marketing to customers and sales at farmers’ markets. Sara represents High Five Meats at the Billings Farmers’ Market every Saturday.

Although this is a great way to meet and interact with customers, this approach is also very time consuming.

A few years ago, Sara was looking for others interested in local food in Yellowstone County. She stumbled across the Northern Plains Resource Council and Yellowstone Valley Citizens Council.

“I always had been very interested in knowing where my own food comes from, even before I lived out here on a ranch. When I came across Northern Plains and their local food council, I thought, ‘okay, these people get it, this is what we want to accomplish, this is what I'm all about,’” Sara said.

Sara became a member of Northern Plains in 2014, and started working on ways to get more local food into the region.

In 2016, the idea of the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub was born. The Food Hub is a brick-and-mortar place, similar to a grocery store, that sells food from local producers. A food hub also markets its products by building relationships throughout the community — starting with restaurants, hospitals, schools, etc, and then with individuals.

  Sara holding a goat in the barn.

Sara holding a goat in the barn.

Seventy percent of Montana’s food needs were once met by the regional agricultural system around Billings — the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub aims to rebuild that. The Food Hub links consumers and institutions to local producers and fresh, healthy food.

The Food Hub will raise awareness about the nutritional, environmental, and economic benefits of local foods which can ultimately expand markets for regional producers; keep Montana food dollars in Montana; create jobs in the community and increase the amount of fresh, local food available in stores. The Food Hub is set to launch in early 2019 once its funding drive concludes, but many producers like Sara are already excited by the opportunity and help it will bring them.

“The Food Hub will mean everything to me,” Sara said, “I've been a one-woman-show trying to sell my meat in the Billings area and it is a lot of work, and it takes a lot of time. I either need to duplicate myself to get all of the work done or the Food Hub needs to get going.”

The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub will take a lot of the pressure off of Sara.

“Right now I’m meeting with customers, constantly meeting with restaurants, constantly distributing my food, and still helping run the ranch and raise a child. The Food Hub would just help spread the word of our product so much more than I'm capable of doing on my own. And with other amazing producers getting involved in this Food Hub, we're only going to have more of a fantastic selection of products to choose from.”

  Sara with goats at her home in Molt, Montana.

Sara with goats at her home in Molt, Montana.

The Yellowstone Valley Food Hub will also change the access the community has to local food. “I think this will benefit the community immensely,” said Sara. “I don't think you can fully measure how impactful this is going to be for producers and ranchers. Not only is it better for the local economy, but people know what they’re eating and where it comes from, and producers have more support from the community.”

Click here to learn more about the Food Hub and find out how you can help make it a reality. If you have questions on how to help the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub email Northern Plains Resource Council organizer Maggie Gordon at maggie@northernplains.org.

  Sara snuggles with two goats at her home in Molt, Montana.

Sara snuggles with two goats at her home in Molt, Montana.