Picking Your Path: Families, U-Pick, and Growing Local

“If people know the family that is behind the farm, maybe they’ll see the importance and value of keeping small farms going,” says Julie Peters of Red Hen Farm.  Julie, her husband Greg, and their two kids own the u-pick berry farm and orchard just outside of Missoula’s city limits. Along with unsprayed berries and soon-to be certified organic apples, their farm offers eggs year round, and plant starts and produce in season.   Julie agreed to share her thoughts about farm longevity, as well as dealing with rules and regulations, after attending AERO’s Growing Food Business workshop last spring.

When asked about the history of the farm, Julie said, “My husband needed more space for his landscaping company’s equipment, so we purchased the farm.  We were always passionate about fruits and finding u-pick places, and it was our dream to try and have one.”  The first year, 2011, they planted several apple trees.  Then they solicited friends to help figure out how many strawberries they would need to plant to maintain a U-Pick farm. They bought thousands of plants, intending to market the strawberries until they could find a buyer for the apple crop.  Now, in their 6th year, they have strawberries, raspberries and other vegetables. In the height of the season, u-pick visitors have picked over 100 lbs of berries a day, no doubt going home with red-stained fingers!

“The workshop was helpful to have Health Department professionals in the same room, to ask detailed questions one on one, and it was great to have options around the state to attend.  In fact, we would love to see more AERO workshops available discussing ag. legislation.  One of our biggest stumbling blocks is that we don’t always know what farm projects or products are under regulation,” Julie said.  Learning more about Montana and the USDA’s farming regulations would be very helpful for their business.  So far, they have not filled out the Cottage Food Act registration, which is something Julie admits to being a bit overwhelming.  The Cottage Food regulations will help them determine the requirements for growing their business with value-added products, like drying fruit or making cider for sale.

“I’d love to go to more workshops AERO put on, such as how to diversify our income, or agritourism information sessions.”  They’d like to know what options are available for small farmers beyond growing a new crop, but need help weeding through local and state regulations.  Last year, Red Hen Farm started offering Community Supported Agriculture shares, with weekly offerings of berries such as strawberries, gooseberries, currants, eggs, vegetables, and fruits such as peaches or apples.  This year they have 30 families signed up to get their delicious, organically grown fruit.  If you can’t make it to the farm, you’ll be happy to know they provide berries and fruit to Missoula restaurants including, Mmm Waffles, Caffe Dolce, Great Harvest, and Green Source.

Along with their busy U-pick and CSA schedule, Julie and Greg plan to create a “Farm Friday” farmer’s market on their property.  “At the height of the season we’ll have veggies, eggs and fruits available,” she told us.   Another project they hope generates revenue is Greg’s apple tree grafting.  He has searched for a diverse group of heirloom and rare apple scions, and is doing personal field trials to determine what trees will grow and produce best in the Missoula area.  In fact, they are doing these comparisons with many of their plant stock, in order to have the best production on their farm.

From our afternoon chat, it was obvious that Julie is very passionate about providing food to the Missoula community, in the healthiest way possible.  They love being on the edge of the city, so that Missoulians can get there quickly and easily.  Their beautiful location and life are very welcoming, and we’ve already planned a family trip down to pick berries from their farm, happily avoiding the box store.  We wish them the best of luck in their 2017 growing season!

 

Visit their website or facebook page for up to date information on events and produce!

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