John Anderson on giving back, maintaining agriculture & the human component
Updated: Dec 7, 2022
Where do you live?
I consider myself really fortunate to live where I do. I live in a small rural community still occupied by people I grew up with. Everybody knows everybody’s business – good or not – but people really care about each other.
We live in a beautiful natural environment. I’m the third generation on the same ranch started by my grandfather who was a Danish immigrate. When my grandfather came over, he was on the way to California and stopped in Montana. We’re very fortunate my grandfather put this operation together at a time when it was still affordable to do so. Today it’s almost impossible for a young person to buy land and start an operation like this.
Where do you work or what is your profession?
I am a rancher. The life of a cowboy looks very glamorous from the outside – that rough and tough image of a cattleman or of a cowboy. What most people don’t realize is that ranching is not all glamour, it’s a lot of really hard work. The days are long and hard. The glamorous part is riding horses and herding the cows. The unglamorous part is in the wintertime when you’re calving and mamas are dropping their babies in a snowdrift. You have to bring them into the barn or even sometimes the living room to warm up. Then in the summer, there’s growing crops. When you are living in a place as dry as Montana, you’re irrigating. We have mosquitos eating us alive. It’s 90 degrees and you're in rubber hip waders. That’s the not so glamorous part of ranching that doesn’t come across in the cowboy shows on TV.
"Whether you’re coming from Bozeman or rural Alder, the future of maintaining open space is important."
What do you do for fun?
Playing music as part of The Ruby Valley Boys is my favorite fun thing. In college, my brother and I got together with a friend, who eventually became our brother-in-law, and formed The Badland Boothill Band. We played at just about every wedding and event in the Ruby Valley for about 15 years. After that, an old college friend moved back to the Valley and we started The Ruby Valley Boys.
We’ve said we might have to change our
name to the Ruby Valley Geezers. We don’t play in bars, so we don’t get hired for much, but we have an old 120-year barn on the ranch. We cleaned out the packrat nests and moved out all the equipment, and now we have our own dance barn. I also love to travel. My wife and I have taken some nice trips.
How are you connected to the Ruby Valley or surrounding area?
I think about stewardship and giving back. Our parents instilled in us that you need to give back to the community. Mom was a church leader and started a little Sunday school. Dad was a legislator, a bank director, involved with the water users, and served on a number of statewide organizations. I’ve served on the Ruby Valley Conservation District board for over 45 years. Most recently, the RVSA is an organization I've really liked being involved in. Mostly because instead of butting heads with conservation folks, even though we don’t always agree on everything or how to accomplish everything, our basic values are the same. Whether you’re coming from Bozeman or rural Alder, the future of maintaining open space is important.
Giving back is important to me. I probably spend more time doing that than I should, but there are rewards to that. I think about some of the conflicts I’ve had with conservation groups or more specifically people – but people in the RVSA take the time to get to know each other. The ranching community may be a little at odds with what conservation groups want to accomplish sometimes, but we all have a genuine interest in maintaining our natural resources. Like it or not, we have to include each other in that process if we really want to get the job done.
"The ranching community may be a little at odds with what conservation groups want to accomplish sometimes, but we all have a genuine interest in maintaining our natural resources. Like it or not, we have to include each other in that process if we really want to get the job done."
Why are you a member of the RVSA?
Rick found a captive audience in the Ruby Valley Conservation District board of supervisors. Most of the ranching members of the alliance are part of the Ruby Valley Conservation District, too. Rick had started relationships with conservation groups and talked to us about the real need for dialogue and coming up with some common ground. The main focus was for us all to sit down with the people we kind of perceived as the enemy and get to know them as people. Get to know how they think, feel, and what their goals are. Now in the Ruby Valley Strategic Alliance, we rarely have a meeting that doesn’t end in hugs. We’ve all become really good friends, even if we all don’t always agree on things. And that’s life. Whether you’re dealing with other ranchers, or anyone, people are people and we won’t always see eye to eye.
What is the vision and goals for the RVSA?
I think one of the areas where we’ve seen some progress and some effect is influencing decision makers, the people in government who make decisions about land use. We’ve been able to impact decisions and policy on the state and even the national level. Here’s this group in southwest Montana that’s not just ranchers and not just conservationists, but both, and we’ve come together on policy and we’ve been able to make an impact already. That’s only going to get more valuable.
"We’ve all become really good friends, even if we all don’t always agree on things. And that’s life. Whether you’re dealing with other ranchers, or anyone, people are people and we won’t always see eye to eye."
What do you look forward to while working with this group?
The fun we have when we’re together. I just really enjoy when we get together — just being with people we care about and enjoy. Even though we have some grueling meetings, there’s a comradery and a banter that makes it an enjoyable experience. Some of the other ranchers have said the same thing – they just really like getting together with the conservationists and each other.
What do you think others could learn from the RVSA?
The thing that’s really made the RVSA is the human component. We’ve taken the time to get to know each other and from that, we can develop plans and know they are based on working cooperatively.
What do you want to be sure people know about the RVSA?
That we are coming together from different points of view, but we are coming together to arrive at solutions and support solutions that are good for the resource, and good for the people – that’s what will maintain agriculture.
Was there anything that surprised you in your work with the RVSA?
I don’t think I was really surprised we were able to sit down and become friends. The founders picked people who were open to working with ranchers and ranchers who were open to working with environmentalists. If you get the right people that are willing to be open-minded and meet other people halfway, you’ll succeed.
What is your personal theme and/or walk song?
Kansas City Star by Roger Miller