Western Montana’s Local Farmers are Feeding Your Faces, Part 3: County Rail Farm

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Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

IMG_6941Tracy and Margaret have been farming at County Rail Farm for 5 seasons. County Rail Farm is located in Dixon, MT, in Western Montana, where the summer has been unusually dry.   These gals have two fields that are on drip irrigation, with water that comes from one of two wells. The other four fields run on overhead sprinklers (hand-line)  from the irrigation ditch. The ditch is fed from the Jocko River, and just upriver from the diversion, the Jocko is fed by a couple springs. This means they didn’t have heavy restrictions this year despite the drought conditions (many farms on the upper Jocko and elsewhere have had their ditches closed because it’s so dry). And these farmers are very, very grateful.

Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

Tracy and Margaret of County Rail Farm.

The entire property is located on 23 acres, most of which is a giant hill—only 4 acres are flat.  They farm on 1.5 acres every season, with half an acre growing only asparagus and fruit.  On six plots they grow IMG_6940food for Montanans, including: greens, asparagus, cherry tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes, garlic, and onions.  County Rail Farm is certified Montana Homegrown as well as certified organic by the MT Dept of Agriculture. For more information, go to their ORGANIC, HOMEGROWN: Our Methods page. Each plot spends about two seasons in production and one season in cover crop, unless it’s a new field and it spends at least 2 seasons in cover crop to build up the soil.  They also grow cherries, peaches, plums, apples, pears, chickens, and goats. The chickens travel around the farm, kicking up and building the soil, as do the goats.  County Rail Farm grows 200-300 pounds of greens per week!

IMG_6946 IMG_6947These farmers have a sweet greens cutter that cuts their greens harvesting time by 1/6! It’s great for greens that grow up (vertical)–like arugula, lettuces, mustards, spinach, etc! (It was invented by a teenager growing up on a farm who wanted to cut down harvest time!)  These two gals and one intern run the farm, with the help of the farm’s owner, Steve, who offers advice, support, and tends to the fruit trees.  County Rail Farm is located at Pommes de Terre Acres, where Jane Kile, a powerhouse behind local food movement in Western Montana, cultivated the land since the 1980’s. Jane and a handful of other farmers in the valley started a small CSA from this property, one of the first in the United States. Jane believed: “Food should feed the soul and the community,” that growing and consuming food was about more than just having something to eat.  Jane and her husband Steve grew fruit and vegetables and raised chickens at Pomme de Terre Acres. The asparagus grown here is Jane’s asparagus and has been growing for 18 years! As the next generation of farmers at Pommes de Terre Acres, the gals of County Rail Farm continue the legacy of  caring for the land and producing food that nurtures body and soul.

Tracy and Margaret live in a charming home on the property which includes a sun porch with a cozy futon surrounded by plants (including a fig tree—be still my heart!).  Interns get to stay in a cabin on the other side of the irrigation ditch, powered by a very long extension cord and no running water.  Tracy casually points out the outhouse she built herself.  I am impressed, but not surprised.  These gals have the lean look of a farming lifestyle, but I wouldn’t challenge Tracy to an arm wrestling contest—and that’s saying something (I took second place at my friends’ Flathead Lake Memorial Day Arm Wrestling Championship in 2014, and probably only took second because I messed up my shoulder at roller derby practice a couple weeks before).  These two are kind, hard-working, funny, and tough.  Like all farmers, amiright?

County Rail Farm was preparing for the weekly farmers’ market and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) pick up (County Rail Farm is the drop off point for the Western Montana Growers Coop CSA pick up), as well as the Farm Dinner Burns St. Bistro was putting on over the weekend.  One word: cannollis. They had locally made cannollis!  I bet you didn’t know Dixon was that fancy. You’re welcome.

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Milk yer goats, heah!

I brought my best friend with me to see the farm (yes, adults have best friends). She follows County Rail on Instagram and friends of ours get produce from County Rail Farm and rave about Tracy and Margaret, so my buddy was excited to meet her new heroes.  And one day she’ll trade in her tailored slacks and oxfords for Carhartts and work boots and leave the concrete jungle to move back to Montana to farm. I was giving the hard sell. Tracy and Margaret took us to their building where they clean and sort produce for sale.  They are going through the GAP certification process through the Western Montana Growers Cooperative, and they are  very serious about following GAP IMG_6948rules to a T.  They are documenting everything in harvest logs: What is growing where, when and where does it go, who cleaned and sorted, quantity, where did the produce come from and where did it go… All part of GAP requirements, but also good business data as well.  This data collection and organization is Tracy’s pride and joy.  And it also gives the farmers good info for future seasons.  This farms beats with efficiency and abundance and love. You should try their food and check out their place some time.  Their Harvest Party is coming up on September 20, so mark your calendars for a Dixon trip.  Only come if you like good food, good company, and beautiful country, otherwise, you’ll be miserable.  See you there!

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