Montana Treasure: Dixon Melons

It's a love story that started from the sweet allure of ripe melon - and it's survived a host of challenges over the years.

Joey Hettick, co-owner of the Dixon Melons farm, recounts how she met her now-husband and co-melon-grower, Harley Hettick.

"I met Harley in my restaurant which was the Silver Nail and now is the Buck Snort. He would come in there and he had a garden and grew melons," Joey says.

For 32 years, Joey and Harley Hettick have been growing different varieties of melons and selling them across Western Montana. 

"She comes up with the idea we could actually sell these things," Harley says. "She married me because I knew how to grow melons."

The Hettick's farm started small in the town of Dixon, growing 12 to 15 melon plants on one acre of land. But each year their farm kept getting bigger. 

After 32 years of operation, the Dixon Melons farm now grows more than a 1,000 tons of melons each summer on 20-25 acres. The Hetticks sell eight varieties of melons to 30-40 grocery stores and 11 different farmer's markets. (Contrary to popular belief, there isn't "Dixon" variety of melon. The name refers to the location of the farm near the town of Dixon.)

It hasn't always been easy, as the farm suffered crop losses and burglars stole $60,000 from the operation in 2009. But an even bigger challenge was on the way for the Hetticks.

For the first couple decades of operation, Joey and Harley Hettick were running the farm. 

"I love doing that kind of field work and all of a sudden it was all gone," Harley said. 

But then in June 2011, Harley suffered a brain bleed. 

"They're not real painful but they sure screw you up," Harley says. 

Joey says it was a long road to recovery, but Harley was doing well - until July 2017, when he suffered another brain hemorrhage.  

Harley's second brain bleed completely turned his life upside down.

"Paralyzed on my right side and I can't control the tremors sometimes," Harley says. "I should've been dead, that's what the doctors told me. I cheated death twice."

Joey began focusing her attention on helping Harley following his second brain bleed. Their children started running the farm. 

Dixon Melons is now a family affair. You can see their children and grandchildren selling melons at farmer's markets across Western Montana. 

Despite Harley's situation, Joey and Harley's love continues to grow like the melon seeds they plant. And their business with it. 

"That's why we're in the business. I tell [our customers] all the time 'thank you' because they're so supportive  and they speak so highly of us. And it makes you want to do this crop because it's so much fun and positive and people just love it," Joey says.

The Dixon Melons, this week's Montana Treasure. 

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