The ranch wife, reinvented

  • Andrea Malmberg

 

At the end of a long dusty road that bumps through Wyoming sage country, Twin Creek Ranch looks like a typical ranch. Outside a hand-hewn log building, turkeys and chickens peck at the ground; cattle graze on a nearby hillside, and ranch dogs guard a pack of goats.

But it takes only one conversation with Andrea Malmberg, the ranch’s tall and elegant co-proprietor, to realize there’s little of the traditional ranch in Twin Creek.

Malmberg lives with her husband, Tony, on more than 16,500 acres south of Lander, Wyo. Here they raise range-fed cattle that receive no hormones or antibiotics and eat only grass. The Malmbergs practice Holistic Range Management, moving cattle on the land to mimic the effects of elk and bison grazing, and part of their ranch is now under a conservation easement. They market their "Beyond Organic Beef" directly to Wyoming consumers, retail outlets and a local restaurant.

A cattle buyer’s daughter from Montana, Andrea was working as an environmental mediator in southwest Montana when she met Tony. Not long afterward, she drove down the 12-mile dirt road to Twin Creek Ranch for the first time. "I had my truck full of stuff to leave if I didn’t like the ranch," Andrea says. "But I wanted to move as soon as I saw the place." The Malmbergs, who married in 1998, share the responsibilities of running the ranch; they both work outside with the animals, and wash dishes.

Tony used to bring in guests who wanted to play cowboy and work on a real-life ranch for a while. But his wife has taken their guest-ranch business one step further. Visitors from all over the world now stay in an elegantly decorated new lodge, and enjoy Andrea’s gourmet cuisine, created using the ranch’s free-range beef, poultry, pork, goat cheese and vegetables.

"What I’m passionate about is creating a place where people can interact with the land and their food source," Andrea says. "I’m creating a habitat where people can just ‘be,’ where they can experience fresh food."

Tony, a quiet cowboy who has lived on his family’s ranch for more than a quarter of a century, lights up when he describes what Andrea has done with the ranch: "You should have seen this place before she came," he says. Armed with a master’s degree in natural resource sociology and strong opinions about our connection to what we eat, Andrea is active in the Slow Food movement, which helps people rediscover the pleasures of eating while supporting local producers and a sustainable, diverse food supply. Recently, the Malmbergs served as delegates to the international Slow Food summit in Italy.

Twin Creek Ranch used to ship cattle to feedlots, which sold them to packers who supplied distant consumers. Now, many of the Malmbergs’ customers have actually seen the place where their beef is raised. The couple have won numerous stewardship awards, including recognition from the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

Each day that Andrea spends walking the hillsides, milking the goats, and cooking dinner for the ranch’s guests, she works toward her ultimate goal: a "functional community" where people feel connected to the land. "We’ve lost the talent needed to live with the earth and our food source," Andrea says. "I want to look into how we can regain that knowledge."

The author writes from Lander, Wyoming.

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