I grew up near the shores of Lake Ontario in the city of Rochester, New York. We were surrounded by rolling, green farmland and apple orchards. I was fascinated by our local living history museum – the Genesee Country Village – and by the tales in Laura Ingalls Wilder’s books, which I read feverishly cover-to-cover. Yet ranching and farm life were far removed from my personal reality during childhood. Perhaps it was a drive for exploration in the Ristow family genes that led my sisters and I west in our early 20s. After college, I ended up in Montana and I was immediately hooked on the wide open spaces and relaxed atmosphere.
In 2008, I moved to Billings to finish my Master of Education degree. I landed a job at a nature center where I taught science and outdoor skills. Within a month, I met my future husband, Bart Bilden. He grew up on a cattle ranch in Lavina, which his great-grandfather Enoch Bilden established in the early 1900s. Following high school, Bart lived and worked as a carpenter in Billings for close to ten years.
Together we dreamed of living a simpler, sustainable existence up on the prairie. In 2014, after five years of scheming and saving, we moved north and started Coulee Creek Ranch with cooperation from Bart’s father, Dan. We now manage the land and raise a small herd of red angus cattle, along with a few horses, chickens, and occasionally some pigs. We aim to live lightly on the earth and integrate sustainable ranching practices into our operation as frequently as possible.