2015 Review & Gratitude

The farm is coated in a fluffy layer of snow today and the cold weather is welcome after a very long fall growing season. We didn’t get our first hard frost until the third week of November, which is a month if not later than previous years.

We did a lot this season – of everything. We met our goals for greens in terms of consistency and quantity, and that alone feels like a big deal. This was also the first year that I got to implement my all fields are the same size dream. And wowowow. It’s just as amazing as I always wanted it to be – drip tape from one field to another, remay rolled out and put on without a second thought to length, and easy planning for seeding and transplants. I highly recommend it for small farmers everywhere forever.

Stats for 2015:
24 weeks of salad/arugula seeding and harvest
2,716 lbs of salad
2,772 lbs of arugula
1,971 lbs of cherry tomatoes
21,000 lbs of produce total
31,200 sq ft (less than 3/4 of an acre) planted/seeded for harvest
7.3% increase in sales

In other words, we cultivated slightly less area (by 2,000 sq ft) and managed to increase our sales and cash crop harvests compared to last year. Cool, huh?

We have some big thank yous to hand out this year:

First. To Robin Kok, our intern, who suffered through some long days of weeding and greens bagging, Ke$ha and Hank III. You’re da bomb and this season would have suuuuucked without you. I will never un-see the fanny pack dance and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Thanks girl.

Burns St Bistro, again, rocked it at our annual Farm Dinner and the first ever Asparagus Dinner. We love working with such talented dudes. Thanks guys for your continual support of local food and community.

A huge shout out to the Clark Fork Farmers Market (along with the Missoula Farmers Market, CFAC, NMCDC, MSLA Food Coop, and others) who made the Double Snap Dollars program a reality in Missoula this year. We’re so so proud to be part of a greater movement toward food security. Thank you for all the work you’ve done to make it happen.

This year Margaret participated in a program through WMGC to make the farm compliant with Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) standards. We were audited a handful of times and checked all the boxes to be officially GAP certified! We couldn’t have done it without enormous guidance from Western Montana Growers CoopLCCDC, and the grant we received from the super rad Red Ants Pants Foundation. THANK YOU.

If you’re a young/beginning farmer in Western Montana, and you don’t know about the workshops and field days that the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition has been developing, check it out. They’re on the forefront of sharing knowledge and building community in the farming world of this area. We’ve had the pleasure of hosting both workshops and field days here at County Rail and think they’re the best. Thanks Annie and Bonnie for letting us be part of your successes.

Thanks to Audra Mulkern for involving us in her worldwide Female Farmer Project. We’re honored to be on your list! Look for Margaret and Coda on the cover of this seasons’ In Good Tilth (Oregon Tilth’s magazine)… for real.

As always, thanks to Steve Dagger for giving us the opportunity to farm this land and for all the work he does that makes this place a four-star farmer dream (orchard pruning, chicken caring, porch building, etc. etc. etc.). We are so grateful to be here.

Finally, the biggest thank you of all to our market regulars and wholesale customers who request, seek out, and continually support County Rail. Your dedication to small farms, local economy, and good food makes the biggest difference. You are literally our bread and butter (cuz we don’t grow those). Thank you.

Follow our instagram (@coutyrailfarm) for more photos throughout the year, and we’ll see you in 2016 – Happy New Year!



Farm Dinner, August 2015

Thanks to Burns St Bistro, we had another absolutely incredible dinner at the farm. We were, as always, blown away by the fare and enchanted with the company. This year’s meal was Italian Farmhouse style, five courses of bliss! If you didn’t make it, there’s always next year. Watch for tickets to go on sale next summer.

Apertivo: Beet & Kale tortellino freddo, basil, olive oil

Antipasto: Salmon crudo, pickled summer squash, chilies, arugula w. a cucumber shot
Primo: Nuovo i Vecchio.  Turnips, carrot, onion, hot pepper, colatura.
(This is a salad duo, wherein one half is done fresh and the other as a three week fermentation, to celebrate the simple process of breaking down your vegetables)
Secondo: Carrot stuffed local pork porchetta w. focaccio panzanella, tomatoes, basil and carrot top pesto
Formaggi i Frutta: Dixon watermelon, County Rail Farms feta illegale, saba, fennel sprouts
Dolce: Flathead cherry cannoli
Cafe: Cold press BCRC shots

(Thanks to all the photographers who contributed to this gallery)

Post Season Wrap & Thank You

I like the numbers game. A quick glimpse at 2014:
21 weeks of arugula seeding
20 weeks of pak choy transplants
42 harvests of cherry tomatoes (one planting, outside)
22,715 lbs of produce harvested
– 2,115 lbs of salad
– 1,961 lbs of arugula
– 1,912 lbs of heirloom tomatoes
– 1,631 lbs of cherry tomatoes
33,067 sq ft of planted/seeded area (aprox. 3/4 of an acre not including asparagus and fruits)

2014 proved to be a great season. A good year. We spent more time eating dinner with friends, playing cards, and dancing than we did posting here. I say that’s a win. I can attribute much of that success to our decision to quit our traditional CSA model and move to a Farm Share (market share) system. It meant that we had more time and head space to focus on the land, animals, and our own well being. It also meant that we could focus on growing food that we’re good at growing and that we profit from instead of growing crops to fill out the CSA boxes.

Our members, on the whole, approved. They weren’t all psyched about coming to market to see us (market around here can be overwhelming and very crowded), but they seemed to put up with it for the benefits: any produce, any time, in any quantity as long as we have it on the stand. No missed pick ups and guilty calls asking for a drop off, no extra kale in the fridge that you just can’t seem to eat another bite of, no more wishing there were another eggplant in the box for that one recipe. On our end, we received cash early when we needed it and increased our productivity and sales by 30% largely because of our move from CSA boxes to Farm Market Share. So, thank you to all of our share members who stuck with us through this transition!

This season also marks our first with smart phones. Which means exponentially more photos of our land, our veggies, our friends, and our lives. The farm has its own instagram (@countyrailfarm), which I encourage you to follow for news, happenings, cute goats, and updates, but I’ll also continue to post the best ones here.

More firsts! Our first Farm Dinner! What a success. The men of the Burns St. Bistro hit this one out of the park. We hosted 50 guests for a 4 course plated dinner with our produce (and some other local fare) and then danced under the stars with the music of Caroline Keys and Chelle Terwilliger. This event allowed folks who don’t usually come to our harvest or planting parties to tour the farm, see where their food comes from, and eat a meal with their farmers. It really was priceless, for us and (I think) for them. Read and see more about that night here. Look for notices about the second annual – we can’t wait.

We couldn’t have done any of the above without our awesome summer farm hand, Kitty Galloway. It’s not easy to work an entire season with only two other people, especially if those two are married. Kitty sailed through this year with grace and hard work. She lead the charge this, our first, year at the Tuesday Missoula Famers Market and nailed it, every week. Thank you, Kitty. We couldn’t have asked for more. There’s a truly special place in our hearts for all the volunteers, friends and family, who have come up and lended a hand this season – thank you. We believe in physically connecting with the land we eat from and it is our honor to share it with you. Specifically, Morgan Clark-Gaynor, thanks for the laughs and the music and the endless sass. We love you and wish you the best. As always, we’d like to thank our most generous landlord, Steve Dagger. For the fruit and the chickens and the endless support. You make this awesome life possible. We are in your debt.

Finally, we’d like to extend a giant thank you to all of you for your support this season. We love feeding you, your families, your friends. To the Clark Fork Farmers Market, Missoula Farmers MarketWestern Montana Growers Coop, to The Good Food Store, Orange Street Food Farm, Burns St. Bistro, Biga Pizza, Bridge Pizza, and many many more who stock and/or buy our produce, thank you, thank you, thank you! We’re looking forward to another year of growing and enjoying the winter’s calm and warmth while we can.
Keep an eye out for Farm Share info in January!

Tracy & Margaret

Farm Dinner 2014

If you missed the Farm Dinner last night, you really missed out. We had about 50 people up to the farm for fancy dinner, tour, music, and dancing. At the beginning of the summer, we asked Walker Hunter, chef and owner of Burns St. Bistro in Missoula, to cater our first ever Farm Dinner. And oh my god he and Ryan are masters of culinary creation and presentation. Everything looked gorgeous and tasted unbelievable. They took local goods, mostly ours, and served an incredible four course meal out of our kitchen and into our orchard. The photos say it all. Look for another Farm Dinner next season, folks. We are definitely doing this again. Not pictured: Shelle Terwillger and Caroline Keys graced us with original tunes and covers that spun us around the dance floor after dessert… those two are the most wonderful.

A Letter From Margaret

Dear Friends,

The kale is in the ground!  Somehow I feel as if transplanting outside should be in national headlines.  Newsflash:  Food, Now Safe to Grow Outside! Well maybe there are more important things happening in the world, but I just wanted to let you know about a few happening in ours.

On Sunday, April 27th we’ll have our annual Onion and Potato Planting Party, starting at 3pm, and followed by a potluck and campfire. The following Saturday is kick-off day for the Clark Fork Market!  For weeks I’ve been whispering the date May 3rd into the ear of my asparagus patch, and now it’s your turn.  Hopefully you’ll both be there.

A few things will be changing this year at the Market.  For example, in order to increase our spot size we are moving a short way down from our usual space.  We will be three tents to the east this year.  Tracy also built some amazing market shelves, which we’ll be debuting.  Finally, in October the Market will open at 9am instead of 8am, so that we can all get a little more sleep!

We hope you’ll join us in a few weeks to plant some leeks!

Margaret (and Tracy)

Suddenly, Spring

Two weeks ago, after months of snow on the ground, it seemed completely absurd to start seeds. Now that the ground is bare and the days are filled with sunshine, however, I feel like everything is happening at once. The spinach is popping, garlic is coming up, weeds are already taking over parts of the barn garden, and the goats are anxious to graze on the barely green pasture. GREEN PASTURE… ok almost green.

We are very excited to start the season – it’s been a long winter and we’re absolutely psyched that March is here in force. We have a few new projects for the year. In particular our new Farm Share. It veers away from the traditional CSA box-system and caters to the farmers market. This change means we that instead of planting for specific harvest weeks and amounts, we have a little more flexibility, and so do our members. We are full for the season (woo hoo!), and we both look forward to seeing you all at market.

This year also marks the beginning of my master plan to standardize our fields and make our lives that much easier. By 2016 we’ll have six fields that are all 120′ by 60′ making our crop rotations super easy: two beds planted last year = two beds this year. It also allows us to cut all the drip tape, weed mat, and row cover to the same length every year. This may sound lame. Trust me, it’s VERY exciting. Micah and Katie of Ginger Roots Farm in St Ignatius are letting us borrow a few hogs to tear up a new area of the pasture in a month or two. The hogs, doing what they do best, will clear the grass and open up the soil for cover crop seeding. That saves me from using the disc and tiller on a large section of sod, which is not fun for anyone (especially for Margaret who almost had a heart attack watching the tractor bump around on uneven ground last time I tried this method).

Oh, and SAVE THIS DATE! This summer on August 30th we’re teaming up with the fellas at the Burns St. Bistro for an official farm dinner. They’ll prepare courses with our veggies (and other local fare), we’ll give a tour, and then summer’s bounty will be served in the orchard. Set price per head. Keep an eye out for more information!

This week there’s spinach a week or two from harvest in the field, seeds in the soil, and seedlings in the greenhouse that are itching to get into the ground. We have a batch of broiler hens in the warm room, a couple mama goats gestating their kiddos, and layer hens out in the orchard. One of our three hives survived the winter, and I’ve harvested honey from the other two.

Margaret and I renewed our lease with Steve recently, and knowing that we’ll be here for at least another 5 years feels wonderful. It’s a kind of security and stability that I’m welcoming; it doesn’t have to be forever, but it’s long term enough that we can plan for the future and settle in with the plants and animals that we love.

Happy Spring and Merry Planting to all ye farmers.

A Heartfelt Thank You

The weather has turned cold, the greens are turning translucent in the field, and the leaves are falling. Our fire is lit most nights already, and we’re indulging in the post season lull, which gives me lots of time to reflect on this season and dream about the next.

Like many farmers, at the end of a great season I start scheming. How can we make things work smoother, increase production, use our time more wisely, AND take better care of our land. While walking up the hill with my favorite goat herd, I’m looking down at the pasture and imagining hogs breaking new ground. While reading a novel, I get distracted searching for alternate tomato trellis systems. It’s vicious, this thirst for knowledge and improvement.

This year, we were lucky to have amazing weather that led to gorgeous vegetables and busy markets. We opened up a new market for our greens with labeled bags in grocery stores. We doubled our wholesale production and we found a market system that allows us to visit friends, enjoy the crowds, and get a break. We managed to stumble on the greatest summer worker we could ever hope to find. This year we celebrate three years in one place, on one piece of land. It has been so rewarding to see our rotation in action, to see the asparagus we planted grow to almost production, and to become a genuine part of this community. I feel blessed to be here.

More than good weather and a great situation, what makes our lifestyle viable is you. Without friends, family, and community members who are passionate about good local food, we wouldn’t have jobs. Thank you for supporting small farmers like us. It makes a big difference. Not only for your body, but for your community and for your economy. Putting money into local business bolsters everyone around us.  It gives our friends and families jobs. It makes us stronger by linking us together in a web of social and economic bonds. By buying local, I know the people behind the products I use, and it gives me a solid connection the people in my community. I know them by name. It fosters collaboration and camaraderie between us all, and it allows me to do what I love. Thank you. So much.

In closing, a few photos from the last market and Heidi and Kitty weeding the spinach bed for overwitnering.

Harvest Party 2013

Many of you know that Margaret and I got married in August, and we just couldn’t bring ourselves to host another full blown party at the farm in September. Instead, we invited anyone and everyone, but held off on excessive planning (no band, primarily). Despite our lagging, we had a fine turnout and an excellent time: campfire, lots of edamame picking, and lemon cucumber baseball! The photos below come from Noah Jackson of Forest Voices and Merrill Bradshaw of Merrill Bradshaw Carpentry, thank you both for taking photos when neither of us remembered to do so!

How is it September already?!

Oh my. It’s been a while. Like three months. Needless to say, it’s been a busy… and awesome summer.

Aside from being stellar in general, Heidi is an animal lover. Her pup, Riley is officially the best of all our farm dogs, and she keeps threatening to buy us some rabbits. About a month ago, Heidi brought her horse Shiloh to the farm. He’s a big sweetie and we’re loving having him around. Coda (our pup) thinks the horse is the coolest thing in the world and loves going with Heidi on her rides up the hill.

It has been so fun to see all of your faces this year at market, and what a market it’s been! Barely a cloudy day (echm knock on wood, please). Our CSA is one of the highlights of my week, seeing all of our members and their families. Some of our members have been with us for three years and I feel so lucky to have watched those kids grow and for the friendships that have formed over those years. Thank you all for supporting your local farmer.

We’ve also been really happy with the restaurant and grocery support this year through the Western MT Growers Coop. Our greens are now at the Good Food Store, Orange Street Food Farm, as well as a variety of other stores (including ones in Bozeman, Butte and Kalispell). Pretty cool!

The irrigation ditch has been turned off for a few days now and we’re reliant on just well water to keep the greens green for the next month. In fact, we’re so pleased with this little cool spell that we’re taking the afternoon off today while the rain soaks in. Oh it feels so good – fall, almost.

Earlier this week, Tony, Heidi, Margaret, and I picked most of the pumpkins and did a little photoshoot with the haul…