High Tunnel, Hi Rye!

While the rest of the outside world is still brown and recovering from a long, cold winter, inside our new high tunnel, the winter rye and winter peas that I planted last fall are greening up as though it's May. When I enter the high tunnel, it's like I'm walking into the future.

Rye and peas.

Feeding Family, Friends and Neighbors

On one of our farm brochures, it says Prairie Heritage Farm is about feeding "family, friends and neighbors." We really love that idea.

So, you can imagine this week that our hearts swelled a little when: 1) Willa ate her first meal grown by us (See token adorable picture of our baby above.) and

2) We got a check for a CSA from my dear childhood friend Brooke, who just this week decided to move back to Central Montana with her husband and two amazing kids (I don't mean to slight Tom, you're amazing too.)

Although every share means a great deal to us, when we get one from friends or family, it's like there's an extra vote of confidence that comes with it. When we get a signup from Jacob's parents, or when my Mom and grandma load up a bag at the farmers' market or when I make my Dad eat lettuce, or when I see my nephew pop a juicy red cherry tomato into his mouth, it's just a little sweeter, knowing we're growing healthy food for the people we love so much.

There are days -- mostly the cold, gray, dark ones we've had so many of recently -- when I'm not so sure why we chose to live or farm here (seriously, less than 80 frost-free days? Are we nuts?) but then I remember how rare it is to live someplace where you have both roots and wings -- where it's possible to have have a community that mingles family, childhood pals and new customers and friends too.

So, we'll wait for sunnier days, knowing we have friends and family counting on us. That might be enough to get me through another cold snap. Maybe.


This center pivot could be symbolic of something.

Or maybe it was just a really strong wind.

Not Waiting Around

The official uniform of Team Prairie Heritage Farm.

Team Prairie Heritage Farm took a road trip to the Flathead Valley to deliver a few Grain and Seed CSA shares to new members (drummed up by a couple of our good friends) and to listen to the president of Crossroads Resource Center and food systems analyst Ken Meter present on the food system in western Montana.

A typical Grain and Seed CSA share: 86 pounds of heritage and ancient grain goodness.

Ken presented a staggering set of numbers. Currently, farm production balance in western Montana (and nationally) is lower than in the 1930s during the Great Depression. Farmers lose over $30 million to produce their agricultural products. They also spend $80 million buying external inputs for those products, for a total loss of over $110 million to the region. The other end of the food chain, the consumers, are spending $680 million on food outside the region. Ken asked, just how long can we keep this up?

I think the answer is, let's not wait around to find out. He then showed the audience great examples of projects in Minnesota and Wisconsin that aren't waiting to find out.

In western Montana and in particular, the Flathead Valley, those communities aren't either. People and groups are making things happen in the Valley like Nourish the Flathead, the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, our friends at Ten Lakes Farm, Purple Frog Gardens, and Montana Coffee Traders.

On our drive home, we were wistful at the incredible movement taking hold in the Flathead. Two things struck us, though. While our drive over was a three-hour trip—through the shortgrass prairie, across the Rocky Mountain Divide, and into the eastern-most Pacific Northwest—I had to remind myself, despite the dramatic change of scenery, we are only one county over.

Pondera County kisses Flathead County.

The second revelation was, there are great things happening in our little rural community too, and there is no reason why they can't be as vital and empowering as what is happening across the Divide. All it should take is a little bit of not waiting around to find out, and knowing that farming and all of its associated networks can and should be a net positive on the balance sheet and to the community.

Rural Beasts

The Chicken Monster.

I was in Missoula the other day, and I overheard this boy talking to his mother. Their conversation went something like this:

Boy: "Where do you think all those chicken feathers came from?"
Mother: "I think it was something that flew in; a hawk or something."

Let's contrast that conversation with one that recently occurred in Great Falls:

Neighbor against a woman who has chickens: "We see chickens across our fence and can hear them cackle."
City planning board member: "I think chickens are a rural beast. I don't think chickens belong in Great Falls."

Missoula is a city where long ago they determined that chickens in the city just might be okay - the sky wouldn't fall. Great Falls (and even our little rural agricultural town of Conrad) is a city that has recently decided that chickens are rural beasts and have no place amidst urban civility.

What gets me most about all of this, is that some seem hell-bent on separating agriculture from daily life. Food comes from somewhere else - definitely not from our neighbors' back yards. Something happens out there somewhere else, then it magically appears in our grocery stores at our convenience, neatly packed in groups of 12. Whether it's intentional or not, they end up distancing people from the source of their food. There is no reason why food cannot happen in a city, in abandoned lots, on rooftops, in backyards. And yes, chickens are part of making food happen.

And by the way, I'll fully support bans on those rural beasts in cities just as soon as dogs start laying eggs.

Early Spring Greenhouse, Take 3

The chamber within the greenhouse.

Each spring it seems we reinvent everything. My lovely wife talks about what we did the past two years here, so I won't go into it. This year it seems our stop-gap solution is just as inelegant as the past two were, just in different ways. We have what you can conclusively call a "greenhouse", but of course it has no heat. So, in order to get our onions, leeks, and early lettuce on their way to the field, we had to come up with some way to heat the building. Since a little space heater won't do the trick, especially at night, yet since the space heater is all we have, we modified the space to fit the heat source.

But first, we had to assemble the structure:

Shoveling out a spot for the greenhouse.

Pa helping put up the greenhouse.

Willa and her skeptical eye.

Greenhouse walls are up.

Completed greenhouse.

Inside the greenhouse.

Back to the heat issue: I cut up foam panels (R-value of 3) to boxed off a little section of the greenhouse for the nighttime. Each day we have to take down the foam door and the foam ceiling to allow sunlight in (it is a greenhouse after all). We've already filled that space, so the next question is, will the weather shift to allow us to use the full greenhouse, or are we going to have to expand our little foam insulation haven?

Or a better question: when will we be able to buy a farm so we can build a proper greenhouse so that each spring we don't have to dream up some half-baked solution to the problem of not having a greenhouse with proper heat?
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