Not many people can lay claim to the title of “fifth generation Montana rancher.” Cole Mannix is one of them.
Mannix is the founder of Old Salt Co-op, a multi-stakeholder organization, alongside the founding team, Andrew Mace, Ross Eikenbary, Caroline Webster and Nick Wiseman. The three founding ranches of the co-op are Mannix (Helmville), Anderson (Melville & Centennial valley) and Hibbard (Adel).
“This isn’t just about me. I don’t want this to sound like (Old Salt Co-op) is my thing,” said Mannix. “I had the initial idea for Old-Salt Co-op, but since then, friends have joined. We built this thing together.”
The co-op was founded to combat the fact that 95% of meat from the founding ranches of the co-op is “purchased somewhere by someone who cannot know the integrity behind its production,” according to Old Salt Co-op’s website. The vision is to sell local meat to local communities who know the value of the product they're buying and know who they're buying it from.
Mannix is no stranger to land stewardship. The Mannix family has been living off the land for around 140 years, since 1882, according to the Mannix Family Beef website.
“I take pride in the family stewarding this land over five generations (going on six)," he said. "It’s a short time in comparison to our Native Americans.”
Mannix grew up in Helmville on the Mannix Family Ranch about an hour's drive northwest from Helena.
“Getting to work with my dad, uncles, and aunts learning and ranching was special,” said Mannix. “A lot of people don’t have that opportunity.”
When Mannix thinks of Helmville, there's a stark image in his mind of grandma Darlene.
“We could walk down a dirt road to her house and be there in 10 minutes. She read every book out there and was everybody’s counselor. Thanksgivings, Christmas, Easter, they were all spent at her house,” said Mannix.
Mannix also gives back to the Helena community in another way: music. Mannix is part of the cover band, the Copper Queens, where he plays guitar and banjo.
“We don’t get together too often, but (we) just enjoy hanging out and (we) enjoy music,” said Mannix. “To be honest, a gig is like our practice.”
Mannix attended Carroll College, graduating in 2007 with a bachelor of arts in biology and philosophy. He has lived in Helena since 2012, alongside his wife, a fellow Carroll graduate who is from Helena, and their two sons.
“(In 10 years) I see myself in Helena or in Helmville with 13- and 16-year-old boys. I’m excited about Old Salt Co-op and more value to land stewardship. If it’s successful, we won’t have a desire to sell it. We just want to employ people living in our community,” said Mannix. “In the future, I hope I have a bit more time to play the banjo.”
Old Salt Co-op is just getting started. The first venture beyond the fields for the co-op is Old Salt Outpost, a restaurant selling local Montana meat. It is located at the Gold Bar in downtown HelenaIn October 2022, a state-of-the-art processing plant will launch near Winston. Then in 2023, Old Salt Festival is set to begin, a culinary centered festival accompanied by live music on a member's ranch. In the fall of 2023, the co-op’s flagship butcher shop and restaurant, Old Salt Public House, will open, according to Old Salt Co-op's website.
“First off, you shouldn’t have a motto on life,” joked Mannix. “But I think all of us cost the world something. So much goes into raising a person, feeding a person and educating a person. Try to give more than you take. If I can do that or at least try, I’ll be proud.”