Sommers continues traditions
Pinedale – “I was born into this lifestyle,” says Jonita Sommers of running a ranch. “I love it.”
Sommers has always been an active part of the family ranch, which she runs with her brother Albert today.
“I taught school for 34 years in Big Piney and at LaBarge,” she adds, “but I taught school so I could be home on weekends and in the summers to help on the ranch.”
Love for ranch life
Sommers’ earliest memories go back to when she used to sort cows with her father.
“I don’t know how old I was, but I don’t think I was walking yet. I remember Dad picking me up from my mother’s arms and putting me on his horse between him and the saddle horn,” she says. “His horse would fly around, cutting cows. I loved it.”
From those early days, Sommers says she knew she wanted to live and work on the ranch.
“I have always loved cowboying, and that’s what I always wanted to do,” Sommers adds. “If I could live on a horse, I would, but we have to make a living, so I taught school. My school paychecks bought a lot of haying machinery and other things.”
The ranch today
Sommers Ranch sits between Pinedale and Big Piney on the Green River.
“My grandparents homesteaded here, and my brother and I own it together today,” Sommers explains. “We have commercial cattle, and we sell them as long yearlings.”
They run on the Green River Drift with their commercial herd.
“We also have a little bunch of purebred Herefords that we like,” she adds.
Life on the ranch has changed over the years, though, Sommers explains.
“Today, we have grizzly bears and wolves,” she begins. “It’s much different than when I was growing up.”
Sommers notes that, while there have always been environmental challenges, more private entities are now attacking ranchers.
“We’re working together more because a lot of those groups realize ranchers keep the open spaces and make it possible for wildlife corridors,” Sommers says. “We still have problems, but it’s still a good life.”
Off the ranch, Sommers explains that she’s involved in a number of organizations.
“I belong to the Wyoming CattleWomen, Green River Valley Cattlemen’s Association and the Wyoming Stock Growers Association,” she says, also listing the Green River Valley CattleWomen as an important organization. “I think it’s important to promote our product, and we’ve got to have a group that advocates for us as cattlemen.”
For Sommers, being a woman in the ag industry runs deep in her history.
“I never gave a second thought to being a woman in the ag industry,” Sommers says. “My grandfather died when Dad was only 13, and my grandmother raised four kids during the Depression.”
Then, Sommers’ mother and father ran the ranch.
“Dad got hurt when I was 26, so Mother ran the ranch,” she says.
“My dad died in 2000, and my mother passed away in 2006, so Albert and I took over full-time then,” Sommers says. “Our community is used to women being active on their ranches.”
For young women interested in the ag industry, Sommers says hard work and a love of the lifestyle are necessary.
“Anyone who loves the lifestyle and wants to put the work into ranching should,” she says. “But they have to love the lifestyle.”
In their area, Sommers says the remote nature of their ranch means that adapting to the lifestyle can be challenging for people who aren’t used to it.
“Not everyone can live 100 miles from Wal-Mart, but it’s a good life,” she comments.
Being a ranch woman also means that, aside from the hard work on the ranch, it’s important to be involved in the community.
“We have to promote our product,” Sommers explains. “We also need to educate people about agriculture. Education helps more than anything.”
Those in agriculture are outnumbered by people who don’t understand the industry, Sommers says, adding, “We have to be pro-education and promote our product, so the industry can continue.”
Despite the challenges, Sommers says, “I love this lifestyle and the work. This is a good industry to be a part of.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.