In form and function, the Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co. is unique for Western Montana. Here are some pieces of our puzzle we'd like you to know about.
We have been a worker cooperative of two farmers, but we're growing our ranks in 2017 as Katelyn Madden joins the farm crew. We wouldn't have made it this far without an extensive network of friends and community members who support our work through projects ranging from infrastructural development to artistic outreach.
As a result of this support, we are a growing force for local food production in the state.
Evidence of our work can be found (and eaten) at farmers markets, supermarkets, and the home farm itself in Stevensville, Montana.
We've learned a lot in our three land tenures. The hardest lesson we described in a late-season newsletter in 2014. But the far more interesting story is in our trial and error search for a land arrangement that would be "just right." This is known to some as the "Goldilocks method of farming", or "Goldilocks-ing-it" for short.
The first lease began when Max posted a wanted ad online, titled"Young Farmer Seeking Irrigated Land." For months, he'd waded through the Community Food and Agriculture's Land Link program, a well-constructed dating service for land seekers to meet land owners. Through correspondence and visitations, nothing shook out of the Land Link database. The weather started to turn. By October the garlic needed to be planted if the next season was going to be anything resembling a successful harvest. He pressed on with his search and made a Craigslist post introducing his goals and experience, plus his willingness to work in exchange for a chunk of soil. Within a few days, he had a couple nibbles to investigate. But what young man would go out property-gazing alone? He invited his mother to join in the fun. As it turned out, this was a solid choice. A kind family 15 miles from Missoula was struck by Max and his mother enough to offer him a work-trade arrangement the following spring. He would carry irrigation pipes across the family's hay fields in exchange for eight acres of soils formed by the canyon's creeks. An incredible arrangement, considering Max's lack of capital to buy land outright, and his uncertainty about what capital he could raise in the first years of production.
So instead of sinking money into land he wasn't sure of, the landlords allowed Max and volunteers to live on the property in tipi's, cots and tents. Several of Max's friends had volunteered to help grow produce and live out on the land in 2013. In order to continue growing a farm and not a garden's amount of land Max needed a commitment to growing the business in 2014. This second year, he made another Craigslist post that might as well have been titled "Join the farmer cooperative."
Lucky for him, one of the respondents was a Utah-man named Kenny. The two worked hard alongside new members of the volunteer crew, producing food for more than 30 members of the farm. And at the end of the season, Kenny joined the farm business as a cooperative member. As the two-year lease was coming to a close and the land was about to turn back into pasture, Max and Kenny began looking for the next bit of land to grow on. They discovered a possible farm North of Missoula. And after many conversations they moved equipment and supplies up to the land. But when that arrangement didn't work out, they decided to put the farm on hold until another promising opportunity arose.
Luckily, two farm share members had seen what Max, Kenny and Co. were capable of and, driven by the Slow Money ethic of investing, they purchased land for the Missoula Grain and Vegetable Co. to lease for five years. The goal is for the farmer cooperative to make an offer on a portion of the 15 acres at the end of the five years, in 2020.
In the meantime, we hope to feed you and further involve our Farm with the community through local farmer's markets, farm events, and partnerships with other local businesses. We are on transitioning land and will become certified organic in the 2017 growing season. We strive to improve the soil each year by employing minimal till practices and by sourcing local inputs to improve nutrient and microrganism levels.