Growing Food (and a Business!) in the Flathead

Last spring, Tawnya Rourke Kelly attended AERO’s Growing Food Businesses workshop that was held in the Flathead.

Tawnya GardeningTawnya, a practicing permaculturist, currently owns and runs, “HeartStead Home & Garden LLC,” a landscape business that helps people in the Flathead design and maintain gardens with an eye towards attracting pollinators and using native and food-bearing plants.

She attended the workshop with the mindset that someday her small farm will generate enough income to scale down her landscaping business and allow her to focus on growing food to feed her community.

Like many workshop attendees struggling with the logistics and the language of the new laws, Tawnya found the seminar valuable in helping her gain a clear understanding of the breakdown of what small producers can or can’t legally sell in Montana.  What stuck out to her was that the current cottage food law appears to not allow her to have an income that matches her landscaping business.  Based on income modeling and her calculations, it would take making the leap to wholesale to bring in profits, Tawnya said, and as a one-woman enterprise, she simply can’t make that work.

Tawnya has a passion for food and feeding people, and it is obvious in the many activities and events she is involved with.  She is a co-organizer of the wildly popular Free the Seeds event, and a board member of Farmhands-Nourish the Flathead.  She is also coordinating the upcoming Inland Northwest Permaculture Convergence which will take place in Hot Springs this Labor Day.  Tawnya has no trouble talking about growing things, and the networking at AERO’s workshops, events, and other garden/farm-centered gatherings is very valuable, she says.

hoophouseTawnya’s challenge, which is not an uncommon one, is getting locals and farmers interested and involved in classes or workshops. “Farmers are super busy for not a ton of income, have families, and don’t want to overextend themselves,” she told us.  Making classes appealing from a time-management and profit-increase level will be the most effective, in her opinion.  

That way, farmers will see the benefit of making time to attend.kitchen table veggies

Tawnya, along with Purple Frog Gardens owner Pam Gerwe and staff at Farmhands, were part of the team in the Kalispell area that asked AERO to bring the workshop to the Flathead.  When workshops were planned in Bozeman, Billings, Great, Falls, and Arlee, Tawnya and other movers and shakers helped bring the workshop to more folks. Indeed, many attendees have responded that the various location options throughout Montana made attending feasible.  Often, trainings and workshops for beginning farmers and ranchers are based in one part of the state, and the travel can be prohibitive.  Like others, Tawnya is hoping for a follow-up class with further clarifications for some of the cottage food laws, as well as ways to grow markets and buyers so that small-scale production can be feasible for business-women and producers like her.

We have great news for Tawnya and everyone; just this month AERO received $50,000 funding from the Western Extension Risk Management Education Center to hold another workshop series to help Montanans better understand the state’s updated food policies and grow their farm and food businesses.*

For Tawnya, making her passion for growing food and feeding people a financially feasible option is a great priority. We wish her the best of luck in this admirable endeavor!

garden
*We will hold the next workshop series in the fall/winter of 2017.   Last spring, over 100 folks attended the workshop series.  Feedback from that first round emphasized the value of examining concrete examples of the nitty gritty aspects of the laws, as well as connecting folks with other brainstormers, entrepreneurs and local health officials.  AERO looks forward to making more of those connections, and hopes you’ll help us shape those workshops by answering a few short questions, here.

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