“We wanted a hex.” A what? “It's a hex sign (painted on barn or house) which has its roots with the Pennsylvania Dutch.” Alicia and Richard Moe teamed up with Ruthie, Richard's artist cousin, to design and produce their sign. Two MOES, yellow and green plant colors, the Moe brand, and a sense of motion inform the sign and surely tell stories about the Moes.
The “hex sign” stands out atop the Moes' red barn and can be seen from a good distance. The sign and the barn seem to draw the visitor closer on entering the Moe Ranch. Some years ago, the barn was white, the paint was peeling, and the roof needed replacing. Today, the bright red barn with sign and six wind towers looming beyond complements the Moes’ red-roofed sandstone house, manicured property, and river running nearby. The whole view speaks of new projects and new life on Selkirk Road west of Two Dot.
Alicia and I sat down for Cream of the West cookies after a brief tour of the Moes’ 100-year-old home. We walked over recently redone entry, kitchen and pantry floors to the sunroom. The floors hold quite a story by themselves. The Bowmans, who owned a Bed and Breakfast in Valier, had obtained thousands of the original 1901 tiles removed from the State Capitol during the 1960s renovation. Their B & B was beautified by the Capitol's tiles and Alicia and Richard were more than impressed.
In January 2006, the Moes loaded their stock trailer with over 10,000 tiles “gifted” to them by the Bowmans and hauled them back to Two Dot. Richard and Alicia proceeded to have regular tailgate parties hasping, grinding and cleaning tiles. Once they came up with the design, Richard Knudson masterminded the installation. With all three of them working together, it took about a month to lay the 3900+ tiles. Another creative effort completed by the Moe team with some major help from Knudson.
These two projects only hint at the creative process and spirit at work on the Moe Ranch and in the owners' lives. Alicia says: “Quite a bit of my career has been involved with gifted education. Many gifted students start ahead of the curriculum; in other words, they already know what most students need to learn. The challenge is to get these gifted students to really learn and grow instead of staying in place or falling back.”
“No Child Left Behind has helped to reveal gifted education as an area we need to improve.” Alicia remarked. “Fortunately, Montana legislature has recently appropriated $1 million each year for educating gifted children.”
When she retired from the Great Falls Public Schools and moved to the ranch, Alicia formed her own ABC Consulting business. Now, as a “retreaded” teacher, she wears many hats. She works for OPI (Office of Public Instruction) as a consultant in Gifted Education doing workshops and visiting schools on a one-on-one basis. She is also employed by a curriculum consortium called the Montana Small Schools Alliance and helps schools review their curricula, assess standards and look at testing results. Measured Progress of Dover, NH is another client. This company develops the statewide tests which measures students’ proficiency in math, reading and science and grades 3-8 and 10. Alicia helps teachers analyze this state test data and use it to help students improve.
Finally, Alicia fills inde-pendent contracts. Every June for the past several years she has worked with the schools in Browning. “I always prefer working on a continuing basis with a group or school or association.”
Reflecting on the state of present day education, Alicia says, “I believe this is the most exciting, challenging and complicated time for education. No Child Left Behind has forced us to look at every kid; something that was not always done in the past. NCLB, which is a reaction to some of our past educational practices, definitely had short-comings. But, hopefully, it is leading to more consistency and accountability.”
How does creativity fit into the whole standards, testing and evaluation process? “Benchmarks help to define for teachers what students need to know and be able to do. Teachers can be creative in choosing the methods they use to help each student reach those benchmarks. Teachers can do flexible grouping, draw on a variety of resources and their own talents to encourage the learning and thinking processes of their students. How teachers get students to learn and achieve benchmarks is still up to them. Teachers can also use their creativity to provide an elastic learning environment and provoke thought.”
Still deeply involved in public education, Alice Moe brings her own creative gifts to her consulting work. “The report card is not the determiner of future success it once was; its reliability and validity are more and more drawn into question. Proficiency on the Montana standards and benchmarks are the new targets for kids to achieve.”
Alicia Moe has at least one more job about which she may be more excited than any of the others. “This is show and tell.” Alicia says as she presents a Cream of the West business card that reads: ‘Alicia & Richard Moe, Marketing Team.’
“Go talk to Alicia and Richard,” is how the refrain goes at Cream of the West when details about marketing the products are needed. “Someone has to do this part of the business if Cream of the West is going to grow.” So, Alicia and Richard took on the job.
This new job began to take shape in August of 2006 when two things happened. Vic and Linda Hanick, friends from the 70s who owned the first Great Harvest Bakery east of the Mississippi, contacted Alicia. Linda told Alicia about guerrilla marketing and soon began weekly phone-tutoring in marketing strategies. Linda and Vic eventually came to Cream of the West and did a workshop for the company. The couple have continued to mentor Alicia and Richard, helping them get Cream of the West whole-grain cereals into Wild Oats, the Colorado-based natural foods grocery chain.
Beth Keating at Midtown Market also opened up some marketing doors for the Moes. Beth pointed them towards Associated Foods (Western Family) in Billings. From there they were sent to the Associated Foods corporate offices in Salt Lake City, which distribute to a five-state region. As they work to expand the grocery end of the business, Alicia and Richard will be covering lots of territory this year to present Cream of the West products at food trade shows and and corporate meetings.
Is the COW marketing project the next step from educational consulting? “I really love Cream of the West and the fact that Richard and I can do the marketing together. I don't like being on the road alone. This way I'm not. We've put our foot in but, I know we have to put in more time to make it grow. Richard’s been the cattle prod all along saying, ‘We need to do this’ so I’m the one that needs to make the commitment.” So, is that a ‘Yes’ answer to the question?
Historically, Alicia came from Kansas, Illinois, North and South Dakota before moving to Montana. Moe graduated as a secondary English teacher from Northern State Teachers College in Aberdeen, SD, and later earned a Master’s in School Administration from MSU-Bozeman. She spent her public school career in Great Falls where she taught reading, English and gifted education. She was the head of gifted education for a time, then became an elementary principal, and finished her public school career as Director of Curriculum and Assessment. She also found time to teach creative thinking and assessment classes as an adjunct professor for the University of Great Falls and MSU-Northern.
Interestingly, Mrs. Moe has never thought of herself as creative in the traditional -- artistically talented -- sense. “I differentiate between creativity and the creative process. I value the creative process and believe it is the driving force behind change and growth. And, I believe all of us can use creative thinking processes. I recently saw a GE ad that said, 'Some people
see windows where others see walls.' I aspire to be a person who see the windows!”
“Teachers can help kids channel their creativity. That calls for both teachers and students to 'think outside the box.' Young people need to see the value of what they produce and to be able to fit it into the parameters of the real world.”
Where does intuition fit? “It's a hunch or gut level feeling. It helps me to read people and be better able to work with them. I don't like to do canned work-shops. I like to use an interactive process when I’m working with people. That becomes a group weaving process that ends up being more than we expected at the beginning.”
Alicia Moe is immersed in the creative process whether consulting with schools or rejuvenating the Moe Ranch. Interestingly, she readily revealed Richard's photographic and other talents during the interview for this article. She reports that Richard, a man of few words, is not always so. “You should hear Richard at 5:00 a.m., chattering away to our dog and cat.”
Alicia and Richard were introduced by a mutual friend. They married on the Moe Ranch in 1997 and, since then, have collaborated on many projects. One of those is the small wind farm on their property, a joint venture with Dave Healow of Billings. The Moes are also in the process of returning some of their property to wetlands via Selkirk Wetlands Project. (A future story, no doubt.)
Finally, Alicia has taken on the challenge of painting/ decorating one of the windmills constructed by the HHS VoAg students for display during and after the upcoming Montana Festival of the Wind.
Alicia Moe and husband Richard certainly prove another common refrain, “You don't survive in agriculture anymore without being creative.”