Written for North Dakota's Inspired Woman Magazinewww.inspiredwomanonline.com
Sept. 12, 2013
by Jessie Veeder
Vawnita Best is a woman tied to the landscape. Ask her about her passion
she will tell you about the ranch on the edge of the badlands her
father purchased as a young man and spent a lifetime tending and
working. She’ll tell you about the yukka plants that grow in bushels in
one of her favorite pastures. She’ll talk about her five-year-old son’s
rooster and the chickens he tends to, the horse she’s been training and
the registered angus bulls she raises with her husband Pete, who’s
working on a tractor down in the barnyard, their son Kyle at his heels.
Then Vawnita will show you the view from the front window of her house
that overlooks the valleys and peaks of the gentle and greenest part of
the badlands of Western North Dakota and she’ll wonder out loud what it
must have been like to try to make it out here in these harsh conditions
nearly 100 years ago.
“All four of my grandparents were children of McKenzie County homesteaders,” Vawnita explains. “All of my ties are right here.”
Vawnita is a fourth generation rancher and the second generation to
manage this land. Her son, if he chooses, will have the opportunity to
carry on the legacy in McKenzie County.
And so the woman takes nothing for granted, especially when it comes to
the ranch where she and her younger sister, Kim, were raised. She’s
heard the story of how her father, Kurt Hovet, came home from the
Veitnam war with his sights set on ranching and she understands what it
takes to make a living off of the land.
“Dad always had that cowboy way,” said Vawnita of the second oldest of
ten children raised on a farm too small to sustain such a large family.
He bought the ranch in 1968 and owned it less than a year before losing
his arm in a ranch accident. “There was no room for error and he kept
working. He sacrificed a lot for this place, for our family.”
It seems Vawnita carries that story with her as she saddles up a horse,
the memory of working alongside her father still fresh and honest within
her, little pieces of his presence on this place found in the way a
gate has been wired or in that new baler in the field, purchased after
his untimely death the spring of 2013, a piece of equipment he would
have appreciated in the face of this summer’s record hay crop.
“I’m glad I got the time I had with him, to learn from him,” says
Vawnita as she recalls the fall of 2009 when she left her job with the
North Dakota Department of Agriculture and made the decision to ranch
alongside her father full time. “It was the first time my time didn’t
belong to someone else. We helped the neighbors ride, we moved cattle
home. It was a great fall.”
Although Vawnita explains that she always planned on coming back to her
community, the decision that she and her husband Pete made to work the
ranch full time was a journey of education, collaboration and a vision
for her community that Vawnita works and fights for every day.
Vawnita graduated from High School in 1993 at a time when outmigration
was one of the biggest concerns in McKenzie County and young people
weren’t coming home to work. She met her husband, Pete Best, the night
he graduated from North Dakota State University with a degree in Animal
Science in 1995. The two were married in June of 1996, Vawnita graduated
from NDSU with a degree in Animal Science in 1997 and the couple spent
the next several years working in agricultural finance and food
safety positions throughout the state before making the decision to move
to the Hovet ranch in 2007.
“It wasn’t your traditional transition. Pete’s family wasn’t in
production agriculture,” explains Vawnita about what it meant to have a
daughter in a position to take over the family operation. “It’s like
turning over the reigns of CEO with a 6 year job interview.”
A job interview that includes managing forest service grazing rights,
putting up 1200 acres of hay, raising approximately 20 registered
Quarter Horses, managing a herd of 260 registered angus cattle, working
to save their calves in a spring blizzard and keeping her finger on the
pulse of the oil industry that has flooded Vawnita’s home with
opportunity, unprecedented growth and new challenges for landowners.
“Oil activity has a direct impact on our operation and our cattle,”
explains Vawnita, who works to communicate with oil companies to obtain
exploration, completion and production schedules so they can make good
decisions about pasture rotation on Forest Service land and the land
they lease from neighbors to run their cattle. If their cattle are
grazing in a pasture close to a high traffic oil industry road, the dust
kicked up from the tires can affect the cattle’s health, an issue that
can be detrimental to the operation’s bottom line.
“The challenge right now is that production agriculture and the oil and
gas industry do not understand each other,” explains Vawnita. “We’re
used to hunkering down and getting the work done, but now is the time to
stick our necks out and tell our story.”
And so Vawnita tells the story of her community with reverence and a
quiet sense of urgency, believing that both oil and agriculture can
co-exist with proper communication because, in her words, “This is my
home and this matters, for the future of our landscape and future
This is the kind of attitude that has gained Vawnita respect and trust
in her community where she puts her passion into action by serving on
the McKenzie County Healthcare Foundation, supporting local livestock
4-H activities and working closely with the county to develop community
quality of life programs that will help retain working families in the
Vawnita has also just completed an 18-month Rural Leadership North
Dakota (RLND) Program through NDSU Extension, where she gained a global
agricultural perspective and developed leadership skills that will be
useful in continuing to advocate for a home that is changing every day.
Her experience with the program inspired Vawnita to bring the story of
McKenzie County to life by organizing and producing “Cowboys and Crude-
The McKenzie County Story” a documentary that will debut during Watford
City’s Centennial Celebration next summer.
In addition, Vawnita’s mother, Rita, nominated her daughter for the 2013
Farm and Ranch Guide’s Ranch Woman of the Year award, but Vawnita won’t
mention it, because Vawnita is not her awards, accolades or
Vawnita is the woman who alone carried eighty calves into the barn
during a cold and wintry spring calving season in 2011. Vawnita is the
girl who took her little sister to play in the stock dam when a trip to
the swimming pool in town was not an option. She’s a wife and a business
partner, a mother and the first to admit the place wouldn’t run without
the support and help from her inlaws and mother who live down the road
and her sister and her family who come from Williston to move cattle or
help with the fencing on the weekends.
Vawnita is Midwestern work ethic embodied, a historian and a steward of
the land, firm in her beliefs and determined to continue her family’s
legacy of agriculture in a place she believes in.
Vawnita is a story waiting to be told.
Vawnita is home.