We began a produce farm in the late 1970’s, and a creamery in 2002. We have always been organic and certified since the certification process began. In 2006, the produce business was a founding member of the Montana Sustainable Growers’ Union (MSGU), our local farm extension, education and verification group.
The produce farm is located within a 1/2 mile of the creamery and dairy, but ownership and management of the businesses is now separate. The dairy and creamery maintain their certification and are also members of MSGU.
We receive very little rainfall, but generally have ample irrigation water from surface snowmelt running into our pond. The pond also provides welcome summer dips and winter hockey ice.
To maintain soil health and fertility, we employ many regenerative organic strategies. We use our own farm’s and neighbor farm’s manure to make compost for the fields. We rotate crops, cover crop (winter rye and Austrian winter peas) for a green manure plowdown, mulch, and rotate fields (after about five years in vegetables, the field goes to hay for about five years). We use row covers for season extension and shade cloth when necessary to improve germination.
Pest management strategies vary from crop to crop. Pest problems are usually minimal. Row covers prevent flea beetle damage, Bt (bacillus thuringensis) eliminates cabbage loopers, chickens eat grasshoppers and children pick potato beetles. These are our most common pests and cures. Preventing pest outbreaks by maintaining soil health– and therefore plant health– seems the best approach.
Weed control can be a major challenge–made worse some years by weather conditions– and worse still by farmers’ errors! Hands, hand tools, machinery, proper timing, mulching and grazing livestock are our top weed management tools.
Beside some weed control and field debris clean-up, our livestock provide manure for compost, meat for us to eat and sell, sheepskin rugs and attractive lawn ornaments. All their forage is grown on our farm.
We house our chickens in a mobile unit that can be towed to various pastures, paddocks, fields, the sheep pen or the hoop house (where grasshoppers are concentrated). The hens are neither caged nor penned. They are fed organic grain screenings from the mill in Ft. Benton, MT as well as waste from the Lifeline Creamery. Eggs are sold mostly at our farmers’ markets or the Lifeline Creamery Store in Victor.