Q&A with Candace Dolen, Kristen Smith, and Jaclyn Rogers, advocates of rural living

AGRI-PASSION: These sisters in Saddle Hills County are passionate about agriculture and rural life. They’ve created Range 81 Farms and set out as their mission to create community and sisterhood for rural women. Together, they operate a 9,000-acre farm with their spouses, parents and crew of 12 kids. From left: Kristen Smith (middle child), Jaclyn Rogers (youngest) and Candace Dolen (oldest). // Photo by Jen Arsenie

Why did you launch Range 81 Farms?
We felt like there was a gap in story telling around real-life agriculture. A lot of farmers are great at talking about what they do, but we wanted to show the side of rural life that is real and relatable. Yes, we farm, but we also have jobs and burn supper and have kids that write on walls with Sharpies just like everyone else.

What has the reaction been from friends, family and other visitors to the site and/or the Facebook page?
The reaction has been so supportive, and surprisingly a great deal of support has come from people outside of our own community. We worked on the blog for about a year before we actually launched it (mostly because we had no idea what we were doing). It was scary putting this website-baby of ours out into the world. We love writing the posts. Finding out that someone out there who actually enjoys reading it is the icing on the cake. We get great involvement on our Instagram account as well, which is a lot of fun.

In addition to the light-hearted content and useful tips about farm life, you deal with some pretty serious issues like loneliness and mental health. How have people reacted?
Surprisingly, these are the posts that always get the most reaction. They can be hard to write because they require a heavy dose of vulnerability. But the ones that are hard to write are often the most relatable. We all struggle with parenting or feeling worthy or wanting to belong, regardless of where we live or the lifestyle we have.

Your site has been described as very high quality in terms of design as well as the content. Was the design important to you when you set out on this project? Was it one of your objectives?
Haha! Well, that’s flattering! We have absolutely no experience in anything website-ish. Google and YouTube taught us everything. That being said, we took a year to build it because we wanted it to be just right. We wanted to represent our industry and community well and felt like quality was important if we wanted to be taken seriously.

How difficult is it to ensure that the content retains the high standards you’ve set for yourself while remaining current and timely?
Coming up with regular content ideas can be tough. When we do have a post idea we all feel like it’s best to write the post when the idea is fresh in our mind. We edit each other’s work and collaborate a lot. We can’t imagine doing this solo; we couldn’t do it if we didn’t have each other. We even delegate our Instagram and Facebook duties.

Have you been surprised by the amount of work it takes to manage a website?
Oh yeah. There’s the saying “you don’t know what you don’t know”. We’re glad we didn’t know how much work it was going to entail or we might not have stuck with it. We’re glad we did. We’ve also made more work for ourselves (YAY!) by adding a farmwear shop to the site. Now if it would just get enormously successful we could hire someone else to manage the website (HAHA).

The photography on the site is particularly good. Who does your photography?
Our amazingly talented cousin Jen Arsenie can take most of that credit. If there’s a photo that all three of us are in, she took it. We’ve got better at using our Canon cameras too, but it’s amazing what a good old iPhone can do, especially in portrait mode.

How do you come up with topics and how do you decide what to write about?
The topics usually come up when we are just having regular conversations with friends or each other about kids or life or work. We try to meet regularly to come up with content or work on the site, but it doesn’t always happen. We take advantage of iPhone conference call pretty regularly! We don’t have too many restrictions in terms of topics – if we think that it’s something that someone else might relate to, it’s worth writing. And bonus points if it’s funny.

Each of you seems to be balancing a number of jobs, commitments and projects on top of the demands typically associated with farm life. How do you manage?
Barely. Haha! We are lucky to have each other and to have such supportive parents, and we are blessed to live in such a great community. That was part of the inspiration for the blog: we knew how lucky we were to have each other and wanted to be able to share that feeling of “we’re all in this together” with other women who didn’t have that. Rural life can be lonely and comes with challenges that are different from being in urban areas. There’s no walking to the neighbors or meeting other moms at the park. Building real friendships can be hard.

How long has your family been farming in Saddle Hills County?
Both of our sets of grandparents homesteaded here so . . . a long time!

How is farm life different in 2019 than it was when the three of you were growing up?
There’s definitely a lot more mistrust of farmers. When we were growing up the general public seemed to have more confidence in the choices farmers made – they believed that farmers were doing their best to grow safe food and take care of the environment. We are still doing those things, but somewhere along the way farmers lost the trust of the public. That’s part of the inspiration behind what we do – we want you to trust us again, and the only way you can trust someone is if you get to know them.

What would you say to a young family considering making the commitment to farm life?
Farmers are a gritty bunch. You have to really love it because there are a lot of days where you might wonder why you’re doing it, but that’s probably true for any entrepreneur. If you’re gritty and resourceful, you’ll figure it out every time. That being said, it would be hard to do what we do without the support of each other and our parents. If the year is going bad, we are all going through the same thing and can be there for each other. Make an effort to network with other farmers as well as your input dealers, bankers and customers. Strong relationships are so important. That’s the great thing about agriculture as compared to some other industries – we do our best to help each other, rather than compete with each other.

What are your hopes for the website and the Facebook page moving forward?
We aren’t really sure! Our goals are simply to make agriculture more relatable, and to share the joys and struggles and funny parts of motherhood and farm life. When you think about agriculture, we don’t want you to think about suits in corporate offices. We want you to think about all of us farm women out there chasing dirt-eating kids and trying to learn how to do things better every day. And we want to inspire other farm women to share their stories and not be ashamed of what they do. Being a farmer in the public eye is hard, and we need to show others that we are real people with real stories.

Could you introduce yourself, and explain how Range 81 Farms came about?
We are three sisters who grew up in the Silver Valley area, and we grain farm with our parents and husbands. Range 81 Farms isn’t actually a real farm name, since we all have our own individual operations. We just wanted a platform to share our experiences as a group – not just our farming experiences but our parenting experiences too. We have 12 kids between the three of us, so we are a pretty busy bunch.