BENGE, Wash. — Bridget and Paul Coon are part of a family ranch in the Channeled Scablands in eastern Washington, near the small town of Benge. Paul’s family has ranched there since the 1950s raising hay and cattle.
The ranch is along Cow Creek, which runs from Sprague Lake to the Snake River and Palouse Falls.
“We’re on a dry, rocky patch between the basin and the Palouse, and our hay ground is irrigated from deep wells,” Bridget said.
She and Paul have been married almost 10 years. She grew up in western Washington where her family had a diversified farm and feedlot south of Seattle.
“I feel like I’ve gone from the most populated area of Washington to the most rural,” Bridget said. Her two children attend a two-room school in Benge with 16 other students.
Before she met Paul she went to Washington State University majoring in political science, planning to become an advocate for agriculture. She went to Washington, D.C., where she worked in public policy and politics.
After she moved back she began working for the Washington State Beef Commission.
The Beef Commission Board was becoming more proactive in confronting animal welfare and environmental issues — explaining the realities of raising beef and busting the myths around how cattle are raised.
“It’s great to teach people how to cook a steak but I wanted to use my experience growing up in the consumer area, and bridge both worlds,” she said.
On the ranch, she finds herself squarely in the world of cattle.
“I help with everything here at the ranch, as well. We’ve added a guest cabin for people passing through, and it’s a way to help educate the public about ranching. People who come here really enjoy it and have a lot of questions,” she said.
During spring break, students come to see the Palouse.
“They have fun but by the time they leave they have many questions — just from being out here, seeing the cattle, seeing what happens at the ranch,” Bridget said. “Some might be Ph.D. candidates but they don’t have a clue about ranching. They’re like the people I grew up around and I know why they don’t understand. I realize I don’t know much about their lives, so why would they know about ours?”
In addition to helping on the ranch, she runs her own business built on her experience with communications, particularly digital.
“I do social media and buy digital advertising and help people with their websites,” she said. “I wear that hat as well as raising our kids (Edgar, 8, and Elsie, 6) who enjoy helping with everything at the ranch.”
She’s had exciting projects helping other ranchers, and launched an online e-commerce beef business for them last spring when there were potential shortages and packing facilities were having a hard time staying open.
But the ranch is where she wants to be.
“I love this place and this landscape, and the challenge of growing things in a region with very little precipitation,” Bridget said. “I’m living the example that I’m trying to explain to consumers. We are utilizing ground that would not be useful for food production if we didn’t have cattle to graze it. We try to manage it well, long-term. My kids are the 5th generation on this place.”
She has learned a lot from her father-in-law, Dick Coon.
“He’s always been progressive. He was using electronic ID for his cattle and has kept electronic records since the 1980s,” she said.
This place is a blend of tradition and new technology — taking the best of both and using them to advantage.
Bridget has been involved in Farm Bureau since she lived in western Washington and has now taken on some of the leadership in Adams County and the state commission.
“I was asked by our president to be the state membership committee chair. I believe this organization can be very effective on behalf of agriculture in our legislative and legal battles, but we need to rejuvenate our membership,” she said.
“We need to attract anyone who wants to see a positive future for agriculture, and make Washington Farm Bureau as influential as possible. This starts at the county level — working with members and potential members here in our rural county.”
During this legislative session she helped farmers and ranchers learn how to provide online testimony and submit their comments to the legislature.