Central Montana, as part of the Golden Triangle, feeds the world with perception-shifting cuisine. As an economic driver, agriculture has been a part of Central Montana’s heritage since before Charlie Russell‘s time as a ranch hand in the Judith Basin. Today, walk through an historic steam tractor museum, travel the backroads of Montana to experience the land as it was, and is!
The Mehmke Steam Tractor Museum houses one of the largest collections of antique tractors in the country with between 60 and 80 machines, around 20 of which are steam tractors. Located east of Great Falls at 8244 U.S. Highway 89, the Mehmke museum is the work of Walter Mehmke who began collecting machines in the 1950s. The Mehmke collection includes tractors ranging in years from 1898 to the 1920s in every brand you can imagine.
In addition, the museum boasts a wide range of historical and antique artifacts that will transport you to a bygone era. The property’s outbuildings feature a homestead shack, a display on African-American women in Montana with reproductions of women’s clothing from different eras, a bar building with a complete bar that was brought up the Missouri River on a steamboat, several vintage cars, wagons, buggies, a sleigh, and a portable jail cell used by police to house the rowdies at rural Montana events nearly a century ago when Central Montana boasted the ‘bloodiest block in the West.’
Agriculture is the primary economic source for the Judith Basin since the soil produces quality wheat, grain, and pulse crops. Montana ranks 1st for the production of certified organic wheat and crops in part of the Golden Triangle that connects Havre, Conrad, and Great Falls. Central Montana farmers grow and raise a variety of agricultural commodities, many of which you have surely eaten. There are 2.6 million head of cattle in Montana. Wheat is grown in nearly every county in Montana on more than 8,950 wheat farms. Montana growers plant 1.8 million acres of alfalfa and 1 million acres of barley. Montana is the top lentil producer in the nation and if you love hummus, you’ll like knowing that Montana chickpeas account for 28% of US production. Potatoes became a lucrative crop in Montana in 1841, and trail only Idaho in annual production. Montana ranks 2nd in the nation for flaxseed and safflower production and 3rd for canola production.
But the up-and-coming grain Kamut is grown on certified organic farms in Montana. 3 times larger than most modern wheat, Kamut is uniquely vitreous, with a rich golden color. Bob Quin of Big Sandy, became obsessed with Kamut and its potential in Montana 4 decades ago. The best smell around is when the Kamut is boiled it because it smells like cinnamon rolls. After boiling, the grain is poured into the frying vats of safflower oil, and once properly crisped, followed by a spin in the de-oiler to remove excess oil. To finish, the tumbler seasons the snack with sea salt or flavoring. Today, you can see this process first-hand at the Kracklin Kamut facility.
Hutterite colonies dot the Montana landscape, and in Central Montana there are several Hutterite colonies. The King Hutterite Colony offers a walking tour that gives visitors an insight into the Hutterite culture and way of life. The tour lasts 1.5 hours and shows the communal lifestyle of the Hutterites. The King Colony was featured on the National Geographic Channel show American Colony, Meet the Hutterites. These tours give visitors a peek into the day-to-day life of the Hutterites that heavily relies on agriculture. Raising a variety of crops and livestock, one of their most popular commodities every Thanksgiving are turkeys that are raised without antibiotics, hormones, or cages. Popular with the Whole Foods crowd, these turkeys are succulent, farm-raised birds. Every Saturday during the summer, you can see a cornucopia of farm-fresh Hutterite produce at the Great Falls Farmer’s Market. Voted Montana’s best, you can meet the person that planted, grew, and harvested your produce.
Montana’s Golden Triangle offers a diverse foundation for perception-shifting cuisine. We invite you to explore the agricultural heritage in Great Falls and Central Montana all year.