Vilicus Farms officially started from scratch in 2009 when Doug and Anna purchased 1,280 acres of Northern Great Plains prairie off the open market with 20 years of savings and lots of hutzpah. The vision for Vilicus began years earlier when Doug, whose family’s grain farm in Ohio had been lost in farm crisis of the 1980’s, began looking for a viable way to return to farming. Without the existence of a traditional family farm base, options were limited. In 2005, Doug and Anna recognized the emerging opportunities in the organic market and began drafting their vision of a model organic farm that would push the boundaries of conservation and sustainability.
With a "vision board" in their Helena kitchen Anna and Doug began looking for farmland in earnest. Often driving hundreds of miles to visit potential sites, they settled on the name Vilicus meaning “Steward of the Land,” long before they closed on the land 35 miles North of Havre just south of the Canadian border.
Determined to participate in an organic agriculture revolution, Doug and Anna became beginning farmers at the age of 40. Before they even made an offer on land, they purchased their first tractor, “Maddie,” with part of Anna’s retirement fund. They broke ground with Maddie in the spring of 2009 using the USDA’s Beginning Farmer loan resources for land, equipment purchase, and operating capital.
While both working full-time—Anna as the Lead of Sustainable Operations in the National Forest Service, and Doug as the Organic Certification program Manager at the Montana State Department of Agriculture—they began farming on the weekends. Much of their first few seasons were spent commuting 10 hours each weekend from their home in Helena with their 3 Jack Russells in tow.
Since 2009 Vilicus has seen a full cycle of its crop rotation, and grown from 1,280 to 4,700 acres. Doug and Anna have begun an organic farmer apprenticeship program to mentor beginning farmers through the challenges of starting a midscale, dryland organic farming operation. Doug and Anna are no longer commuting from Helena every weekend; instead the farm crew is based out of the Vilicus Farms Headquarters located near the original 1,280 acres, which is the epicenter of the farming operation.Doug and Anna are visionaries dedicated to the ideals of organic agriculture and determined to see others who dream of becoming farmers succeed.
Anna grew up in rural Colorado and Washington State. She spent several summers in Indiana visiting relatives and playing hide and seek in cornfields. She is an innovator who has championed sustainability throughout her 23+ year Federal career and her personal life. Her work has saved millions of BTU’s dollars. She routinely cultivates key pilot projects, and pioneers new approaches to supporting the place-based work of local sustainability champions. She’s fostered a national sustainable operations effort for the US Forest Service serving as the first Regional Sustainable Operations Coordinator and today as the National Sustainable Operations Director—positions she created. She holds a B.S. in Construction Engineering and Management and an M.S. in Civil Engineering, Construction Emphasis from Purdue University. Her Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering with a Sustainable Systems minor is from Georgia Institute of Technology. Anna is a registered professional engineer and an early accredited US Green building Professional.
+ Serves on the USDA Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Advisory Committee
+ Donella Meadow Sustainability Leader
+ Served on the Alternative Energy and Resource Organization (AERO) board.
+ 2010 Presidential Sustainability Hero - Greening Government Award
+ 2008 EPA’s Environmental Achievement Award
Doug has always been a farmer. He grew up on a large-scale grain farm in Ohio that didn’t survive the farm crisis of the 1980s. Giving up a full ride engineering scholarship after one semester at Purdue he followed his true passion and transferred to the Agricultural Economics Program. While completing his degree, he managed a crop farm in Indiana. He worked as a professional Farm Manager and Agriculture Systems Researcher in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Nebraska. After completing his Masters program, he spent two years building a sustainably constructed home with his wife, Anna, while also working as an organic inspector. From 2001 until 2012 he served as the Organic Program Manager for the Montana Department of Agriculture. Doug holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics / Farm Management from Purdue University and a M.S. in Plant Science/Agronomy from South Dakota State University.
+ 2014 Organic Trade Association’s Organic Farmer of the Year
+ Organic Farming Research Foundation (OFRF) board member
+ Montana Organic Association (MOA) board member