10 New Beginnings on the Farm This Spring

Starting this month, we'll be sending out regular emails with updates and recipes from the farm. The aim is to keep you informed about the farm, but also to share news and views about the local food landscape in general. Click here to sign up for our email newsletter. 

Here's the first of the season:

This month, we're gearing up for our 7th (!) growing season. It's just nuts to think it's been that long since we first put seeds in the ground and took our first farm share sign ups. We've grown so much as people, as a couple, as a family (we've grown to a family of four since we started) as farmers and small business owners.

You may have read this piece in the New York Times and this piece in Salon detailing how popular, but hard it is to do what we do. There's a lot of truth in what these two pieces detail: The economics of the small farm are challenging; It's nearly impossible to run a small farm without off-farm income; and as competition in the sustainable ag market increases, it all gets harder.

But, the picture isn't as gloomy as all that. When we set out seven years ago, the market for local veggies in Central Montana was nascent. The market for heritage and ancient local grains was even more nascent. Yet, here we are, seven years later (even though data from the Small Business Administration shows that only 50 percent of small businesses survive their first five years) growing and expanding -- into new areas and into new markets. That's not to say it hasn't been challenging to make ends meet and yes, we both still work off-farm jobs. We've had to "pivot," as they say in the tech world, more often to find more sustainable models and methods and markets, but we're still here, our customers are still here and we're still making it work and loving what we do.

Today, local food is growing in Central Montana with local grocers, restaurants and caterers looking for more products from farmers like us and with customers asking and committing to local food from local farmers. In some ways, it pays to be working in a market that's just starting to grow because it allows us all to experiment and grow together. We learn to stay resilient and courageous.

The seedlings are sprouting as I type and that always brings hope, enthusiasm and energy. It's one of the things we love about farming -- every 12 months, we get a new beginning.



Here are 10 things we're excited about as we start this new beginning:

1. We're growing earlier and earlier every year. And, later and later too. Already, we have kale and chard in the ground. And boy, these are resilient buggers -- they've already been frozen a few times and the wind hasn't exactly been kind. But, Jacob always says, "we don't give plants enough credit sometimes." And he's right. Our goal is to have this food ready in May for harvest and delivery to one of our biggest supporters: 2J's Fresh Market in Great Falls.



2. Speaking of, did you know that in addition to buying our veggies through our Community Supported Agriculture farm share programs and at the Great Falls Farmers Market, you can now also buy them at several local grocers? 2J's Fresh Market is our biggest buyer but you can also find our salad mix and other veggies at Daisy's Deli and most everything we grow at our friend Jill Owen's awesome store Mountain Front Market in Choteau. Bert and Ernie's has also been using some of our local fare (for three amazing farm-to-table events last year) and soon, you'll find our goodies at the new Electric City Coffee.

It's been so fun to work with other small businesses to expand the offerings for local food in Central Montana. And, the diversification is good for our bottom line. We're always trying to find the right balance of direct sales, CSA and wholesale. I think we're getting to the sweet spot.

3. We've shortened our CSA farm share season a little -- from 18-20 weeks to 16 weeks. We started noticing over the last few years that customers were as fatigued as we were by the end of the season and we wanted to be able to offer a more affordable entry into our share program. So, we now offer 16 weeks of fresh vegetables for $480 for a full share or $290 for a half share (deliveries every other week).



4. We're always trying to innovate and experiment and this year is no exception. Some fun things we're trying: developing a consistent red bell pepper, growing sunflowers for seed, trying out a white lentil variety, improving our popcorn varieties, expanding our heritage barley and wheat varieties, expanding our orchard, and installing a moveable high tunnel.

5. We're expanding and changing our grain business to include mail-order direct sales through our grain-of-the-month club, which we call the "Grainy Day Box" subscription program. Grainy Day members get a monthly package of 2 or 4 pounds of our heritage and ancient grains delivered right to their door, with recipes and ideas for how to enjoy these resilient, nutrient-dense grains.



6. This month, we unwrapped our stone mill and started the process of being able to offer fresh, stone-ground flour from our heritage and ancient grains. We're so excited to fire it up and start selling. We'll keep you updated on our progress. We're hoping to have everything in place to meet regulations and start selling and shipping by early fall.

7. We, and a few of our customers, have been enjoying Jacob's 100% whole wheat artisan sourdough bread for years, made from our Sonora Heritage wheat. This year, we're scaling up to offer the bread, which we call "Farmer Bread" in larger quantities and more widely, so we invested in a double oven and Jacob's been fine tuning the recipe all winter. We'll be selling at the Great Falls Farmers Market when it begins in June, but have designs on being able to offer the bread more widely as soon as we get our mill and baking building up to code.



8. We are a founding member of a new cooperative, growing, developing, and selling locally adapted, resilient vegetable seeds. Prairie Heritage Farm and a half dozen other farms have created the Triple Divide Organic Seeds Cooperative. Look for our seed rack at local grocery stores in the future. For now, you can either pick up seeds at our booth at the Farmers Market in Great Falls or they're available at Third Street Market, Whitefish; Delaney's Landscape Center, Polson; Swan River Nursery, Bigfork; Missoula Food Coop, Missoula; Good Food Store, Missoula; Planet Natural, Bozeman; Real Food Store, Helena; and Lakeland Feed & Supply, Hamilton.



9. We are delighted to welcome Ben and Sarah Klein and their little man, Benjamin, to the farm this season as apprentices. They've already arrived and have folded beautifully into the farmstead. They're anxious to get growing and we're anxious for you to meet them.



10. We have grown our farm "family" with about 20 laying hens and 6 sheep (with 3 of them pregnant). If you are interested in eggs or lamb, please let us know.


I just noticed how often I used the word "resilient" in this newsletter, which, I think, is telling. Resiliency drives everything we do, really -- from the seeds we put in the ground to the food system we're working on; from the business models we use to the relationships we're creating and even to the children we're raising.



Thanks for being a part of that resiliency.

Until next time, may you be warm, well-fed and happy.

Courtney, Jacob, Willa and Eli

 

Seeds of New Beginnings

We can taste spring in the air. It's almost here.

As we patiently (or not so patiently) wait, we've been seeding in the warmth of the greenhouse -- the ultimate act of hope.


We love the new beginnings that a tiny seed, and another spring, can bring. Sunshine, hope, promise.

Speaking of seeds and hope and new beginnings, Prairie Heritage Farm is thrilled to be a founding member of the Triple Divide Organic Seed Co-op, which is putting up these gorgeous displays of northern-adapted seeds for farms and gardens across Montana.


 You can find our seeds at Third Street Market in Whitefish; Delaneys Landscape Center in Polson; Swan River Nursery in Bigfork; Missoula Food Coop in Missoula; Good Food Store in Missoula; Planet Natural in Bozeman; Real Food Store in Helena; and Lakeland Feed & Supply, Hamilton.


Ch-ch-changes

We're heading into our third year on our gorgeous farm and our 7th (!) year of farming. Here's to hard work, progress (no matter how slow it seems at the time) and the ever-present promise that the seasons bring. Happy New Year!

This is the farm in August 2012 right before we first moved here, and here it is in August 2014.

Grilled Lettuce (Wait... What?)

We're at the Great Falls Farmer's Market again this season after a few years off. We did the market our first two years, but then kids arrived and we took a little break, focusing on selling our food through our farm shares (CSA) and wholesale to our favorite places (Mountain Front Market in Choteau, 2J's Fresh Market in Great Falls, Daisy's Deli in Great Falls and soon, Wines by Wednesday in Great Falls.)

While all that (CSA and wholesale) continues to grow, we still decided to do the market this year, mostly in an effort to support the food community in Great Falls and meet more people who might be interested in what we do and grow.

So, far, it's been slow, though. I'm trying not to feel desperate about it. My hope is that it picks up as people get to know us again. It's still early. We have a nice display (if I do say so myself), and we're trying to put all sorts of tips we've heard and found to use. So, it will pick up. I know it will.



But for now, I'm bringing home a fair bit of produce after each market. This week, I brought home more lettuce than I would like to.

We won't sell that lettuce wholesale after it's been in cooler for four hours and we won't give our CSA members anything but the freshest picked produce either.

So, that leaves it up to us to eat everything we bring home.

Kale and chard and other veggies I can freeze for winter. Or, make smoothies or make kale chips (which is how we powered through 6 bunches of kale in one day this week) or soups for the freezer.

But lettuce. You can only eat so many salads, you know?

So, I've been doing a riduculous amount of research on non-salad uses of lettuce. As it turns out, there's lots of things you can do with lettuce that don't involve chopping it up and slathering it with ranch dressing. (Who knew? Certainly not me.)

This one, so far has been my favorite.

Grilled Lettuce




Most recipes on the web call for only romaine hearts, but we thought grilled Black Seeded Simpson lettuce was DELICIOUS. The thing about the lettuce we grow is that it actually tastes good. It actually has flavor and texture -- not that lifeless stuff that's been on a truck for the last week. The charring just makes our lettuce even better, bringing out those unique flavors and characteristics.

Here's what you'll need:

1 huge head of Black Seeded Simpson (or romaine) lettuce
1 Tbs olive oil
Salt and pepper

Here's what you'll do:

1. Preheat your grill to medium high heat.
2. Trim off most of the leafy part of the lettuce head and throw that in a salad spinner to wash up and use later for a salad (dang! there's still a salad involved!) or sandwhiches or wraps or whatever.
3. Cut the head down the center of the stalk. (Here's where this gets awesome. Normally, we don't use the stalk -- especially as the season progresses and that stalk gets thicker and longer. Why don't we use it? Because it's thick and doesn't quite fit in a salad. But, grilled! Oh my!)
4. Submerge both sides into cold water for a few seconds to get it cleaned in all its crevasses.
5. Pat dry and let drain a little on a platter.
6. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with a generous amount of course salt and pepper (a little minced garlic too if you're into that.)
7. Place on the hot grill and grill for 5 minutes or so a piece -- until the stalk is tender and the leaves are bit charred and crispy.
8. Top with Parmesan cheese or a creamy dressing and eat with a knife and fork, like a big beautiful green steak.

Other ideas for lettuce: 

Lettuce wraps, including tacos! (We love this awesome lentil taco filling with our black lentils.)
Lettuce soup
Lettuce smoothies
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