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A Labor of Love

When Jilian was a kid, she would often ride her bike down to my restaurant after school, have dinner, and do her homework at the back table. Dan would occasionally join and mentor her, trying to win her affection, which worked. It was around that same time that Dan brought me his first box of Wild Idea Buffalo meat and asked if I would come up with some recipes. I had been cooking buffalo meat for a while, but this was noticeably different. There was no sour smell, it was dark red in color, I didn't have to hide the gaminess – as it didn't exist, and it was rich in flavor, as well as tender. If buffalo meat could be this different, what else could I improve upon? I had been hoodwinked by our food supply and Wild Idea Buffalo Meat was the product that switched how I sourced my food for my restaurant and my family. Jilian Jones holding a handful of soil in her greenhouse gardenIf it was my carpool pick-up day, there would often be a trip to the grocery store and Jilian and friends would cruise the aisles with me, in search of organic this & that. We would have food discussions and the other kids caught on too, with parents who were equally interested.Jones family in their greenhouse gardenFlash forward twenty-four years, and now Jilian, along with Colton are teaching their own boys about eating sustainably and knowing where food comes from and how it's raised. Of course there has always been the buffalo meat and Colton is an avid hunter & fisherman, but Jilian insisted that eating clean would carry through to all of the food they consumed. Once she knew there would be children, they ramped it up even further.  For the past ten years she's had an amazing garden, reading books along the way on how to improve the soil and what to plant next to what. She & Colton milk a cow every day for raw, non-homogenized milk. "No white sugar water for my boys." And, they have a string of chickens for farm fresh eggs. A few years back Jilian and Colton attended a permaculture workshop and visited a food forest. They came back so excited! Jilian started drawing up plans straightaway, along with continuing her research.Greenhouse AssemblyThis past winter, phase one of that food forest started with a greenhouse kit. Which became the greenhouse that just wouldn't stay up. The cause was due to materials that are NOT made for the elements of the Great Plains prairies. Greenhouse AssemblyThe roof was patched twice, before it was finally replaced and secured with good old fashioned wood. And, their main water line accidentally got hit while digging the thermo trench, cutting off their water supply for a day.  Greenhouse AsssemblyOver the months, family and friends came by to help and when it was finally up, no one was happier than Colton! Greenhouse AssemblyJilian got busy prepping the inside with top soil, which she had been building for months, using food & yard waste and buffalo & chicken compost, and worms. Her own unique recipe. ;)Worm FarmsTrenches were dug for "worm farms", which would be covered with plywood for the walkways. To view their work – it looked like an overwhelming project. The children helped right along, of course wearing only the finest of safety gear... scuba masks. If they remember this time, I'm guessing it will be a favorite. SeedlingsAll the plants were grown from seeds in the house over the winter. To witness these tiny little seedlings grow was magical. Jilian would move them from trays to bigger trays, to pots, to bigger pots.Greenhouse PlantingFinally it was time to put them into the earth in the new greenhouse, which they were still working the kinks out of. Two months later, plants that seemed dwarfed in their new home had turned into a jungle of healthy plants. 

Colton & Jilian JonesFor scale reference, Colton is 6'3". Garden FlowersWhen Jilian was little, she had a book called Jilian Jiggs, and the best line in the book, one that I repeated to her regularly was, "Jilian, JIilan, Jilian Jiggs, maker of wonderful magical things!" She has certainly proved that to be right!  

Jilian JonesA project like this can be a real relationship tester, but no doubt it has made them stronger and for sure a memory maker - with stories to come for many years. GreenhouseJilian & Colton are now taking a "Soil Food Web" course, where they will be studying the soil biome, not just of their garden, but of the ranch too. And although the work continues, we are all enjoying the rewards of the laborious work, which I can personally attest to being absolutely delicious!  

As we learn more, we continue to shift in finding improved ways to be good stewards and consumers. Sharing that information with you along the way. As I was putting this piece together, a song came to mind by Crosby Stills & Nash, as I hummed the lyrics in my head, my heart was bursting with pride & love.

"Teach your children well
Their father's hell did slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The ones they pick the one you'll know by

And teach your parents well
Their children's hell will slowly go by
And feed them on your dreams
The ones they pick the one you'll know by

And know they love you..."

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15 comments

  • Inspiring piece. Thank you.
    And the timing couldn’t be better. Late spring here in Minnesota, so time to get to the seed store for our summer bounty. Also expecting my buffalo order today!!

    Mardelle
  • Magical indeed! Love the story. Love the people in it. Wished I lived closer so I could be a recipient of the produce!

    Susan
  • What a lovely family and wow that greenhouse is something else.
    The pictures are fantastic. You all give us hope.

    Janis
  • JandC..I have nothing but complete love and admiration for you and your fsmily.It reminds of all the fabulous times I got spend,side by side with My Grandmother on her small farm and picking wild fruits and raising Guinea hen’s and ducks..and learning how to care and nurture All living things and soil and planting and harvesting…And all of her wisdom.Your story is so meaningful, as I lived in Black Hills all of the 70,s…ten of my best years.So..the very best to your wonderful family.

    Carol Clover
  • Wonderful story! This family is truly living an amazing life this gives me hope that our futures will be greater for everyone!!

    Robin Prososki
  • Love, love, love all that I have learned from your sharing passion knowledge of your land and from the Buffalo nourishment you provide.

    Cindy
  • work that brings to us the most satisfaction in life also happens to be what is easily shared and accepted by all.

    Jill hit it square on the head . . . it is a labor of love.

    Blake O'Quinn
  • Like Anne Clare above, I got “hooked” on the O’Brien’s and WIB when I read Buffalo for the Broken Heart many years ago! Your family’s story and the story of Wild Idea Buffalo are inspiring and give me hope that our world is in better hands with the vision of young people like Jillian and Colton forging ahead.

    Kathy Day
  • I started out with Dan and his book “Buffalo for the Broken-Hearted” and I haven’t left you since.
    This is something else!! I love all of you and I thank God or whomever that you & I were born in this
    at the same time!!! Thank you. . .

    Anne K Clare
  • One of my favorite books is Buffalo for the Broken Heart and it is lovely to hear how the story continues.

    judith billings
  • It may seem like daunting work in the beginning, (but) the BENEFITS to one and all are tremendous ! (physically, mentally, emotionally & Spiritually :) ! Hooray for the “mama, the papa, and the children” !
    Not just “5 Stars” for your project, but TRILLIONS … !

    Joan P Green
  • Absolutely gorgeous! I have so much admiration for all of you and your dedication, hard work and love of land for always. Thank you for sharing this story and these photos!

    Anna Gerrity
  • You guys are always an inspiration. Your kids and grandkids will make the world a better place.

    Chuck Beatty
  • And I love all of you, and what you do, and how you do it! Thanks so much for sharing this wonderful story!

    Liz Aicher
  • Beautiful and inspiring – thank you!

    Deborah Gangloff

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