When Ted Rogers first stepped into the Stahl farm’s 100-year-old barn off West Mullan, it was on the cusp of becoming another dirt-encrusted storage space. But Rogers saw potential in the hand-hewn beams, an idea that after a year of pressure-washing, linseed oil treatment and extensive renovation stands poised to become reality.
“In my mind, what I saw was the ability to turn it into a country store that was appealing to the Western mind,” Rogers says. “Rustic but clean.”
John Stahl’s farm has become something of a novelty in the Missoula area, almost as familiar as the sheep he grazes on weeds along Mount Jumbo. Dozens of visitors flock here nightly in late March and April for what’s known as the Running of the Lambs—the capstone for the free 7 p.m. farm tours Stahl began offering several years ago. In 2012, Stahl and his wife Cheryl started to capitalize on the attraction by selling custom-painted coffee mugs. Now they hope to create even more buzz by throwing open the doors of their barn-turned-country store March 25.
“Four years ago, you would have told me this and I would have gone, ‘Are you crazy?’” Stahl says of the new venture, through which he’ll be selling eggs, produce and sheep products straight from the farm. “Now I’m proving myself wrong. I had to be converted to it myself.”
The Stahls had initially hired Rogers, a private contractor in Missoula, to renovate their home. But his barn conversion idea proved contagious. Rogers says the timing just seemed right for such an undertaking. The rise in buy-local mentality has already helped push the number of farmers markets in Missoula County to seven.
“Having something like this where it’s wholly sustainable—they’re growing their own food, they raise the sheep on Mount Jumbo, they have their own goats for goat milk—it all becomes this movable feast,” Rogers says. “Having a store gives them the unique opportunity to have an everyday farmers market.”
For the Stahls, a country store is merely the beginning. Standing in a stiff winter wind outside the old barn, John talks of selling wool, honey and handmade soaps and giving the public a taste of the “great lifestyle we have.” Of course, to a rancher known largely for herding his sheep annually through town, there’s new business in exposure as well.
“If you’re not growing,” he says, “you’re dying.”