GLENDIVE, Mont. – Former Montana State University Dawson County Extension agent Bruce Smith, who passed away last year from cancer, will be more than missed at this year’s GATE show.
Smith joined Dawson County as ag agent in 1995, but had been in foods and agriculture his entire life.
More than that, Bruce was well known, well respected and well liked by everyone throughout eastern Montana – and beyond.
“Bruce Smith was a giant of a man – not only was he 7-foot tall, but he had a giant of a heart – and he cared about agriculture and the people in agriculture,” said Kathy McLane, GATE committee member, who worked with him for many years. “He had a talent for growing things (local foods) and making projects (woodworking, etc.), and he had the heart and passion to share that knowledge with others.
“Dawson County was so very blessed to have him for our Extension agent. Many times, my brother and his family, and our neighbors, all farmers, went to him with questions, asking for directions for their farming operations,” she said.
Les Metzger, a personal friend of Bruce’s and GATE organizer and committee member, said the Farm-to-Table Cooperative kitchen was dedicated to Bruce last year after he passed away.
Many are surprised to learn Bruce worked with local farmers and sold their goods in the Farm-to-Table store and co-op. One could buy everything from dried beans to potatoes to fresh items – all from farmers in the area.
The dedication read that, “As an avid local foods advocate, Bruce helped start the Farm-to-Table Project, the Glendive Saturday Farmers’ Market, the Glendive Community Garden, the Glendive Food Development Center, the Farm-to-Table store and the Farm-to-Table Cooperative.
Bruce was raised in northeastern Montana on a diversified farm with cattle, pigs, chicken, sheep and lots of hay. He had brothers and all of them, including his dad, were tall.
Bruce graduated from Medicine Lake High School in 1973 and went to Montana State University in Bozeman on a basketball scholarship.
He earned a degree in animal science and later, ag business from MSU. Bruce met his wife, Karen, at MSU and married her.
Between degrees, Bruce played professional basketball in France.
The couple returned to the farm but then went to California, where Bruce received a master’s degree in business administration from California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo.
He began working for Green Giant Co., in their processing plant, all the time learning about foods, factories, processing, production and machinery of all kinds. Bruce mastered it all.
In 1990, the couple moved to Illinois to work in a margarine factory for Unilever.
In 1993, they moved to Twin Falls, Idaho, where Bruce was the manufacturing manager for a universal frozen foods plant.
“It was the world’s second largest French fry plant at the time, employing up to 800 people during harvest,” Bruce said.
But Bruce and his wife always wanted to come back to Montana.
In 1995, an opening came up in Dawson County (Glendive) as the Montana State University Extension Service agent.
Bruce brought his extensive knowledge of foods with him to Dawson. The county was fortunate to have him, and his family loved being back home.
“I love being an ag agent, helping producers out here with how to raise crops and calves,” Bruce said to The Prairie Star a few years ago. “My dream job has always been to work with producers, and I love the people of Dawson County.”
Smith enjoyed building a local foods co-op, and the community kitchen now located in the EPEC building where the GATE takes place.
The community wanted the Farm-to-Table store to sell local foods, but in order to sell local products and mixes, the commercial kitchen was needed to properly prepare the foods before they could be sold.
That is the kitchen that is dedicated to Bruce.
Local producers sold eggs in the Farm-to-Table Store or consign locally-grown food products, like grass-fed beef, lamb, peas or beans.
The food co-op also requested and received a grant from the Montana Department of Agriculture’s Growth through Agriculture Program for the Farm-to-Table Project to purchase a grain cleaner.
Bruce helped local producers use the grain cleaner to clean a variety of grains including wheat, flax, beans, and barley - grains that are then used in food mixes, pancake mixes or sold as flour in the store.
Producers in the region provided hull-less barley, pinto, black, navy, pink and red dry beans and wheat to the store.
The hull-less barley is used in soup mixes, flour and pancake mixes, and is a healthy food product with high protein.
Smith and the co-op developed two food labels for their products, the Western Trails label and Prairie Home Cuisine label.
Bruce really developed the potential of Dawson County farmers and ranchers.
In the county, everyone still talks of missing Bruce and how much Bruce did for the community.
When Bruce was very ill last year, Metzger met with him in a small town. Bruce asked him to take back a dishwasher to his house, as he was buying it as a surprise for his wife.
Bruce died before he could install it, so Metzger went over and put it in the Smith’s kitchen.
“It was the least I could do for Bruce and his family,” Metzger said.
McLane summed up how the community and the GATE community will be missing Bruce this year.
“Bruce was a mighty man who left an enormous impact on Glendive and the rural areas, and that fact that he will be missed at this year’s GATE is the understatement of the year,” she said.