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Bonus Valentine’s Episode 277 with the amazing Mandy Gerth | Lower Valley Farm | LVFarm Academy
14th February 2019 • GREEN Organic Garden Podcast • Jackie Marie Beyer
00:00:00 01:03:49

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I know you are going to love her because she was our Crossfit gardener of the year in 2015! And you have taught me so much! I love all that you do and your delicious food and what you do! And she’s gonna share their new LVFarm Academy

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am Mandy Gerth! Farmer and co-owner of Lower Valley Farm in Kalispell, MT

my husband Jay and I are are going in our 7th year of full time farming. We run, I think we’re at about 

4 acres of production

all organic

primarily sell through a CSA

2 acres of that is using the intensive model that was kind of  pioneered by JM Fortier!

I know you had him on your show! 

community supported ag

  • winter squash
  • sweet corn
  • potatoes

separate rotation then intensive

I think that is new since I last talked to you.

We go really hard may through oct

  • we run a 20 week vegetable CSA
  • Kalispell Farmer’s Market
  • do a tiny sizable amount of wholesale
  • food aggregate
  • directly to small grocery store chains

overview of the farm!

We also have 3 school-age children 7,9,11 they have grown up on the farm very literally

co-owners

awesome crew

really helped make this farm go

under all of that is our community, we also couldn’t do this without our awesome customer base!

I could talk about the farm forever!

OK, I think, what we want to hear about what’s been going on and how does your journey go from gardeners to farmers.

Back to the beginning?

We started out thinking we would be running livestock

vegetable operation would be what would help us make money while we get a livestock operation going.

Before the beginning ~ what made us want to do this

our family had a life changing experience

eating nutrient dense

 

We volunteered on farms a lot! We loved being a part of our farm community in that way

in Indiana

We were doing a raw milk share

you can do in Indiana but not in Montana

super local food

  • grass fed beef
  • lamb
  • backyard chickens

But we were buying farm pastured eggs

slowly with each investment we made in lifestyle changes in our food

Our young children’s health changing dramatically

one of our children had some serious sensory issues

We got in really deep and we were spending almost all of our money on food

why don’t we have a farm?

it was like we don’t have a farm because we aren’t farmers because we

don’t know how to farm

if I could go back to myself

First of all I would give her a big hug

you have no idea what you are getting into!

We have a garden we can do this!

what I would go back and tell myself

having land is not having a farm

access to land that had been in Jay’s family for 3 generations

Parents had put it in a conservation easement

But we built the farm and all the infrastructure!

It was just a conventional hayfield

That’s what we want to hear is how did you create this farm, that’s nutrient dense and it melts in your mouth and the table is laden with just an incredible amount of food!

it’s been a steep learning curve

made that huge dive

Joel Salitin’s book

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise

you should farm

I was like yeah!

we can do this, if people like us don’t do this who does?

IDK maybe people with experience

in combination

The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier.


Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming

IDK if JM’s book was out yet? I’ll go back and look and see

UrbanFarmerThe Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land

in Curtis Stone, I’m not sure his book was out yet, we were watching lots of stuff on youtube then, watching tons of things

go for it

that first year we did everything by hand 1/4 acre

That’s what I feel like, when I look at Mike’s mini-farm it seems huge but then compared to what I saw at your place on the farm tour! I’m like whoa!

It’s a lot but what makes it doable is the 2nd year we invested in the BCS tractor and that was amazing!

What JM Fortier says to buy in the book

The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier.


Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming

when I called to make that order he was like oh you must have read the book.

started out there with JM’s template

since then we’ve adapted it to what works here for us, we’re in a similar climate to him but I think our weather is a little more severe. We’re just North of Flathead of lake and we have some really intense wind so we have to adapt.

And with all that wind, you end up with lots of erosion you have to worry about? Right?

We don’t have too much erosion problems is we are always keeping the soil covered

The problem where we keep the soil covered is we have invested in a tremendous amount of sandbags. The first ones were not the ones. 

Now we get them from

Farmers Friend LLC lots of sandbags I’ve seen on other hand poof!

What are the sandbags for? Holding down plastic?

So our row cover we use

2xs as many sandbags

on the south as we do on the northside

we cover the sandbags for row cover

use the extensive use of Silage tarps that JM’s lays out in his book we also get from Farmers Friend LLC

We’re wind pros now!

Well that can be trouble also like your high tunnels. 

Jays got that really dialed in, he take’s care of taking care of our infrastucture need extra reinforcement.

We’ve 

it is amazing! we have a lot of snow here, right?!

our large tunnels they’re 35 feet wide by 100 feet long. Those stay up over the winter

We also have small caterpillar tunnels those come down

I think there are six

12 foot wide by 100 foot long

caterpillar tunnels

two full size that stay up over winter.

When we get heavy we snow, then we go out and bang the snow off the tunnels so they don’t collapse.

Good thinking, I think Mike was just so surprised last year. 

A family with small children

first we did 1/4 acre

then the second year went up to one acre which is a big jump able to do that because of the  BCS tractor

Then the third year we went up to 1 1/2 acres

1/2 an acre were non intensive crops

squash

potatoes we kept in a different rotation then the intensive crops

That year we bought a 4 wheel tractor

non-intensive crops

putting compost

all of our weeding is done by hand

We are just using the tractor for all of our intensive crops

4 wheel tractor is complete different production system for the little bit of storage crops we do for our CSA customers.

slowly adapted over the years

Our 4th year we brought in a full time employee

she’s wonderful

we had our one full time employee and now we have 5 wonderful part time people who work with us who work with us May-October.

It’s not just Jay and I working with us.

We have our full time person Mon-Friday and she’s here April – Oct

Then how we set up the systems on the farm

our one full time person she’s trained to do lots of things! She’s incredibly super intelligent. She can do everything! And she’s a quick learner!

before lunch

part time people trained to do a few things

monday and wednesday those are the days we have our part time field work people come in

tues and thurs

harvest days we have our packshed crew there. 

On Friday we go for early out for the crew.

pack for market

field, harvest, packshed

hopefully they can go at 1pm

leave us to do paper work office work done from 1-5pm.

don’t use any interns

no interns we only use paid employees

We have a young family so we are attempting to keep our life structured for your children. You know that a farm can swallow all your time

Learning how to create systems on the farm to make life manageable and the farm run smoothly so it’s a positive place to work!

What’s the difference between employees?

So we have one person who can do all of those jobs who is with us m-f full time

mon-wed field workers

We train how to

  • weed
  • silage tarps
  • transplant

Where do you find people to do that work? Do you have to do it those days because of the market setup?

We’ve been really fortunate to find great people

I’ve heard so many horror stories about hiring

put an ad out on

  • craigslist
  • social media
  • customer base

Usually get about 20 applications for every job that we post

we first do a phone interview 3 questions

have you ever worked in a woman run business?

questions for men, we have a primarily female crew here

everyone coming into our team listening to woman

somebody doing field work

people who have had experience working in the sun

heat

heatstroke

why they want to work on the farm?

call their references

Then we do a full day paid workday interview

WE usually know right away if they are a good fit for our crew. If they are we hire them at the end of the day

That’s the process

field workers which is really fun

pack crew which is also really fun!

It’s always in the shade

it is wet that can be uncomfortable

On a hot sunny Montana day that could be nice. 

we do!

may is a little uncomfortable

Oct is miserable and really cold!

That’s a downside pack shed work

fun place to be they’ve got the radio going

In the season May it’s the garden season summer coming. In Montana, people don’t understand you get off of work you get like an extra day after work, the days are so long to go to the lake after work!  It’s like crazy summer!

third position you ask about

harvesting crew

our full time

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