2018 Farm Fresh Pitchfest Business Spotlight: Ellie Costello, Black Bear Soups & Produce

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.”

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 info@missoulacfac.org for more information.

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2018 Farm Fresh Pitchfest Business Spotlight: Kavita Bay, Rivulet Apiaries & Hindu Hillbilly Farms

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 St. 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 at Pitchfest. This week, we feature Kavita Bay of Rivulet Apiaries & Hindu Hillbilly Farms.

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Bay and her husband Justin have been in business since 2009, maintaining between 180-190 bee hives and producing honey, skincare products and candles. Now they are ready to expand their operation.

“Right now we can only direct sale our products at farmers’ markets,” said Bay. “In order to wholesale our honey, we need to have our honey house certified as a food processing facility. When our shop is complete, it will be set up to get that license.” Bay hopes the loan will help them complete the expansion project before this next season begins.

 

We talked to Bay to learn more about Rivulet Apiaries & Hindu Hilbilly Farms.

Q: Your loan will give you funding to expand your shop and allow you to access the wholesale market. Why is that an important next step for you in your business?

A: Finishing the shop part of our business – which is also value-added – is going to increase our capacity and our efficiency. That will allow us the ability to spend more time with our bees, expand the number of hives we have, and change how we manage them.  It will also make our honey more available to more people. And for us, that will result in additional funds. I hope to triple our honey sales.

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Q: What motivated you to start the business?

A: It all started as a side business. I was a teacher, Justin was a contractor. As the recession hit, it was more and more part of our main income. We enjoyed the work, so we started doing more with it. It happened organically – it became most of what we did. Then, two years ago we decided to do it solely. We live a certain lifestyle anyway. We live out by Fish Creek, and grow our own food, so it just fit really well. This shift allowed us to support ourselves by doing something we loved, living a lifestyle that suited raising a family, and aligned itself with the values we hold dear.

Q: What are you most proud of in your business accomplishments so far?

A: I’m proud that we were able to make it what it is, to do it at our own pace, and to maintain our quality of life – what’s important to us – and we’ve done it all by ourselves. Beekeeping these days is a challenge. I am thankful that every year we have found a way to grow and prosper despite the obstacles we have faced. Overcoming these challenges has given me the knowledge that we have the strength and grit to make strides in this industry, for ourselves, and for our community.

Q: What would you like people to know about your business that makes it unique?

A: I feel like I now belong to this community of farmers that are doing similar things as we are. I feel like we’re stewards and that makes me feel good to be going to work every day and to be doing something that benefits someone other than myself. And, for it to be a family endeavor and to be teaching my kids Cy, 14, and Sujatha, 10, to be stewards.

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Q: What’s something you’ll always remember about Cy and Sujatha in this environment of bee keeping and stewarding the land?

A: A really fond memory I have of both of them is seeing their natural curiosity play out in whatever we do. One summer, I looked and looked all over for them, and they were nowhere to be found. I finally found them laying by the hives in their bee suits just watching the bees be coming and going, watching so much happening and finding different bees with different jobs. Later, they’d be telling me “the guard bees are doing this, and bringing in this kind of pollen!” It was really neat to see them being observant and enjoying themselves and learning at the same time.

Kavita photo 5 Suja and bees

Q: What is one hope you have for the future?

A: I hope that we can continue to grow in a way that is sustainable for our family, and for the bees. There’s so much going on right now with bee health, and I feel like we’re working on a puzzle and trying to figure out the best way for them to survive, that’s good for them and their species.

Q: What else do you want people to know about Rivulet Apiaries & Hindu Hilbilly Farms?

A: Our goals are to strive for environmental sustainability in our beekeeping practices, to educate and foster understanding and appreciation of honey bees, and to live a good life and provide a good life for our community. And we want to continue doing that by example.

You can invest in Rivulet Apiaries & Hindu Hilbilly Farms by making a loan at Pitchfest, Thrusday, February 1st, from 6-8 p.m., at Burns St. Bistro. Contact info@missoulacfac.org for more information.

CFAC’s Spring 2018 Internship: Learn New Skills, Make a Difference

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CFAC seeks an intern to help plan and promote on-farm workshops and more in 2018.

Want to help Montana’s beginning farmers grow successful, sustainable businesses?  Want to learn new skills like how to develop new resources, plan educational opportunities, host events, and evaluate programs?  CFAC’s Spring 2018 internship could be for you! CFAC’s paid intern will assist with a range of projects, including:

  • Promoting and marketing a new statewide resource, Farm Link Montana, to farmers and ranchers and the people who work with them across the state
  • Planning, promoting, administering, and evaluating a series of workshops in Missoula on topics including farm law, land access, and business management
  • Supporting MSU Extension and small business staff across Montana in offering business planning workshops in their communities
  • Working with a range of farmers to collect reports and data from a farm equipment investment project, and designing resource guide templates for project reports
  • Planning and promoting a series of on-farm, farmer-led Field Days

Note: The intern will not be expected to lead these projects, but will have the opportunity to assist in their development and management as appropriate. This internship will provide the opportunity for an intern to assist with multiple projects.

CFAC offers a $1,000 stipend to an intern who can offer at least 10 hours/week between January and May.

To apply, email dave@farmlinkmontana.org with a resume and a note on the project(s) of greatest interest, and any additional relevant information not covered in your resume.  We will be reviewing applications on a rolling basis with a planned start date of January 29th.

 

Annie Heuscher, CFAC Program Director, Leaves a Legacy of Hard Work, Creativity, and Laughter

This week, CFAC staff, Board, and friends said goodbye to Annie Heuscher, our Beginning Farmer and Rancher Program Director. Annie came to CFAC in 2012. In 2013, she developed the Beginning Farmer and Rancher program and built a state-wide network of resources, farmers, workshops, and an online platform to connect them all.

If you know Annie, you know she’s a force to be reckoned with – resilient, innovative, and hilarious. We will miss her and wish her all our best as she discovers her next adventures.

Here’s a look back on some of Annie’s CFAC highlights:

 

Q: Why did you think it was important to work for an organization like CFAC? What motivated you?

A: I love Montana; I was born and raised here. I started out working in planning and economic development, and I really loved the connection between all of those things that CFAC represents, and I think they’re all really important – the way we use land and sustain our ag economy in Montana.

Q: What do you like best about working in this world?

A: I loved all the people I worked with. There’s amazing people farming in Montana and it’s an honor in being able to support them in doing what they do really well.

Q: Tell us about a time when you did something you never thought you’d do while you were at work.

A: Hmmm. I never thought I’d watch an ultimate Frisbee tournament and get bit by a parrot all in one day at work.

Q: What was your earliest success? 

A: Getting the first Beginning Farmer and Rancher-related grant. It was a risk-management grant for $50,000 in 2013.

Q: What is your hope for CFAC in the future?

A: To keep innovating and making a difference across the food system.

 

Annie sendoff

Some of the CFAC staff cheers to Annie (left) on her last day.

Q: Your office jams are the best. What’s your favorite song to play at work right now?

A: “Good as Hell” by Lizzo.

Q: What was one really impactful moment for you during your time at CFAC that made you think, “I made a difference.”

A: Doing our evaluations from the specialty crop mini-grants and seeing how much that small influx of funding made people feel so much more confident in being able to grow their businesses.

Q: If you could pass on a few words of advice to folks working in the world of sustainable agriculture, what would it be?

A: Be open to all of the different places where ingenuity can come from.

Q: If you could give nicknames to everyone on staff, what would they be?

A: I’m going to give out nicknames, but I’m not going to say who’s who: Sugarlips, The Handler, The Fixer, The Performer (no pressure), Fountain of Youth.

Q: What’s Montana’s biggest strength when it comes to sustainable agriculture?

A: Decades of hard work, ingenuity and perseverance.

Q: If CFAC had a mascot, what would it be?

A: A big, juicy tomato. Because they’re delicious.

Q: If you were a big, juicy tomato, what would you do all day?

A: Chill in the shade.

Q: Anything else you want to say?

A: Thanks for the wild ride.

Reciprocity Reigns in the Mission Valley

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By: Shay Farmer, Mission Valley Food Access Program Coordinator

CFAC’s work focuses on cultivating an interconnected local food system. Sometimes this path can wind between program areas of food access, beginning farmer and rancher training, and agricultural land preservation ever so subtly, reinforcing our overall programmatic impact as an organization, and offering immeasurable social impacts to boot.

In early October, CFAC’s Beginning Farmer and Rancher program leaders partnered with the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) organize a week-long Armed to Farm conference, a Sustainable Agriculture training for military veterans.

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Twenty-five military veterans joined CFAC and NCAT for Armed to Farm, a week-long sustainable agriculture workshop specifically geared toward veterans in the Mission Valley.

Cora Coleman and Jeff Newton, a military family who attended the week-long conference, have also helped extensively with CFAC’s Food Access Program in the Mission Valley. And, they happen to live on seven acres of prime, unused farming land outside of Polson.

Dave Renn, Beginning Farmer Program Manager, said “the goal of the project training was in recognition of the fact that our veterans possess a lot of the skills and traits that make a successful farmer.”

“We learned so much,” Newton said about the conference. He hopes to develop a business opportunity from the knowledge he took away from the conference.

Coleman was introduced to CFAC two years ago from attending Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) incentivized self-sufficiency classes in Polson. She brought her family to learn to garden, preserve, and cook local food and to earn DSD incentives to spend on fresh and local food at the Polson Farmers Market.

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Double SNAP Dollars participants learn the basics of dehydrating and freezing in a Polson Farmers’ Market Double SNAP Dollars class this summer. Participants receive monetary incentives for attendance, which they can then spend at the farmers’ markets.

This year, our Food Access team recruited Coleman to be a part of the Double SNAP Dollar Street Team. As a DSD program customer, Coleman and other Street Team members provide valuable insight into DSD’s customer base and help promote the program within their personal networks during the summer.

As the summer winds down, Coleman has asked my family to help her family prune the many fruit trees that haven’t been tamed since the passing of her father years ago. In exchange for my husband’s help with pruning, they have offered us a goose from their flock.

The reciprocity of it all has really struck me; between professional and personal and the small part we all must play in our community, we are all re-learning skills and necessities that have sustained us for generations and prevented hunger in the past. And we’re doing it together.