On Thursday, February 1st, CFAC will host the 2nd Annual Farm Fresh Pitchfest, a live event where local farmers and food business owners pitch their entrepreneurial projects to a live audience of community members who want to meet their farmers and invest in local food. This year’s event will be held at Burns Street Bistro, and all are welcome to come mingle, enjoy locally-sourced hors d’oeuvres, and if the pitches compel you – make an investment of anywhere between $25-$10,000 toward a 0% interest Kiva loan.
We’re shining a spotlight on all four entrepreneurs who will make their Farm Fresh pitches. This week, we feature Ellie Costello of Black Bear Soups & Produce.
Costello is in her third year as the owner of Black Bear Soups & Produce, which offers ready-to-eat soups, produce, and flowers, catering, and decorated garlic bundles. With her Kiva loan, Costello hopes to purchase a BCS853 walk-behind tractor and two implements to fit the tractor.
“As a farmer working on multiple plots, the BCS tractor is a primary tillage instrument able to be transported between the two spaces I currently manage,” said Costello. “The BCS [tractor] will contribute to my business success by developing assets, increasing efficiency, and adapting to future growing sites.”
Check out our Q&A to learn more about Black Bear Soups & Produce
What will the loan help you do for your business? Why is that an important next step?
The loan will help me purchase a walk-behind tractor which will be the biggest tool that I have. Farmers work really hard to develop the soil year after year, and that becomes part of their infrastructure. As someone who leases the land that I farm, it’s hard to develop the infrastructure piece of my business. So this loan will help me to establish a type of infrastructure that I can take with me.
In the short term, it will help me to be more efficient. Because I’m part-time and because I rely so much on other people’s equipment, it means a lot of the time I’m doing things when I can. This will allow me the flexibility to say, “I can get out there to work the field,” and do it when it needs to be done. I can take the tractor from one site to another in my truck, I can store it easily, and I don’t have to borrow materials.
What values drive your business choices?
A lot of my choices are rooted in the idea of sustainable regional agriculture. I really think that we can do a lot to feed our community in a way that is healthy for them and healthy for our environment by focusing on regionally-produced foods.
My approaches are small-scale, hand labor. I value regional, sustainable agriculture, and at the same time I approach agriculture from an urban standpoint because I live and work in the city. Having an urban agriculture operation makes it more accessible, because people see what’s being grown and know that it’s being sold locally. For folks to realize that as part of their everyday lives, it makes them more connected to their choices.
What makes you proud to farm and make Black Bear Soups?
My favorite piece of info that friends and repeat customers give to me is that they feel good after they eat Black Bear Soups. People will come back and tell me, “man I felt so much better and it helped my weekend go right.” It’s something quick and delicious; it’s not an indulgence people have to recover from. It makes people feel good. It’s been fun to see people be creative. I’ve seen people get soup that they would put into a thermos and take with them camping on the shoulder season when it was chilly. It’s been cool to see how people are using it.
What’s something memorable that a friend or family member has said about your business?
My mom in particular has really found it marvelous to see the way I have been able to use seconds produce. I was able to process and clean produce that had been chewed on, and use the parts that hadn’t been eaten in my soups. My mom has always thought that was the most fantastic thing.
Was your mom someone who motivated you to pursue farming?
She’s always been open-minded in terms of pursuing the thing that makes you feel alive, but it wasn’t necessarily that she encouraged me to farm.
Have you been influential to her?
She’s always eaten well, and she’s hit some of the things that are my goal in terms of knowing that you can get something local. She definitely seeks out farmers’ markets now and emphasizes organic. That’s a direction she’s moved now that I do agriculture. A lot of what I’m trying to do is to make agriculture accessible to people who wouldn’t otherwise be accessing it. She’s expanded into a more local mindset.
What’s exciting to you about doing this work in Missoula?
It’s exciting to me to be a part of this landscape. With agriculture, gratefully, you get to spend a lot of time outside. I think a lot of people move here for the landscape and the lifestyle. To know that I’m not just an observer, but I’m a participant in that landscape – creating a lovely space for myself and people who interact with me and my business – that’s exciting. The value is already there. Now I get to become a contributor.
What is something you hope for in the future of your business?
I hope I can do it full-time at some point, and I’m getting into that slowly so I can make better choices. It seems better than jumping in and burning out, and not making it. I hope that over time, with incremental steps, I can be just focused on that.
Is there anything else you want people to know?
I really appreciate people who have the long vision for change. And, I think that if we want a regional food system, we have to be willing to have that long vision. We have to continue to say, “yes, I want this,” and keep showing up to support those ideas.
You can invest in Black Bear Soups & Produce by making a loan at Pitchfest, Thursday, February 1st, from 6-8 p.m., at Burns St. Bistro. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.