By Sophie Frank
Each summer, CFAC partners with Western Montana farmers to host monthly, production-oriented Farmer Field Days. Farmer Field Days are geared towards beginning farmers and ranchers, ranging from first-year farm interns, to farmers with 10 growing seasons under their belts, to community members just beginning to scheme their first farm venture. It’s a fun way to dive into a specific topic at a specific farm while meeting and chatting with other farmers throughout the region.
Our second Field Day of 2018 was held at Red Hen Farm & Orchard, right outside Missoula city limits, where our group of 30 beginning farmers enjoyed the first sunny day in what seemed like ages and learned all about small fruit production on an almost-in-town farm.
Red Hen is a 10-acre farm owned and operated by Greg Peters and Julie Engh-Peters in the Target Range neighborhood, just west of Reserve Street. They grow a variety of small fruits, including raspberries, strawberries, honeyberries, goji berries, currants, and blueberries.
Greg and Julie love to experiment with different varieties, tinkering each year to find the best berries for our climate and soil so they can pass on that information to Montana berry-lovers who want to plant a few bushes of their own. Five years ago when the couple and their kids first moved to the property, they planted an orchard that is flourishing, and soon their venture will include an even greater variety of fruits!
Because Red Hen is situated so close to Missoula, Greg and Julie have some unique opportunities available to them at the rural-urban interface. In terms of marketing their products, this translates to a very tangible relationship between farmer and consumer.
When they first started the farm, they relied almost exclusively on a U-Pick model, bringing folks out from the city to harvest their own strawberries and raspberries straight from the fields. While U-Pick is still a large part of what they do, Red Hen has moved towards a CSA model, offering members a variety of fruits and some vegetables throughout the season.
This kind of relationship-based marketing spills over into their wholesale accounts as well, as Greg and Julie have slowly built relationships with local businesses who are excited about working with the seasonality of the farm to bring berries into their kitchens. These types of relationships with local businesses work both ways.
Red Hen has connected with a local coffee roaster to compost all of their organic spent coffee grounds, a local brewer to use their spent barley as a soil amendment in their orchard, and local restaurants to turn their used veggie oil into a means of powering their diesel-engine vehicles.
Red Hen serves as an example of the unique opportunities available through urban agriculture, which is a crucial component to the conversations taking place as Missoula plans for future growth and determines the importance of protecting agricultural land and open space so close to town.
Our next Farmer Field Day will be July 18 at Foothill Farm in St. Ignatius, where we’ll learn about irrigation systems on a diversified farm. You can learn more and register for future field days here.