WEST RIVERSIDE – Melanie Gardner scooped Chive the stubborn ram into her arms and carried him to the pasture.

"He's not as heavy as he looks. He's a lot of fluff," Gardner said.

The other hoofed creatures trotted after her, but Chive opted for the ride. Gardner figured he was about as heavy as a bag of feed, some 50 pounds.

Taking the animals from their pen to pasture was one of the farmer's first chores on the property she and her husband own in Hellgate Canyon.

In the background, the chickens clucked from their mansion, and they kicked up straw.

The peppers glowed in the walipini, an underground greenhouse.

"There's Anaheim. White wax peppers. Hungarian yellow peppers. Jalapenos. Bell peppers. Cayenne peppers. Paprika peppers," Gardner said.

When Melanie and Michael Gardner first moved to the property in 2010, weeds and scrap metal filled the garden, and garbage littered the yard. Now, bees buzz around tall sunflowers, oregano grows sturdy and a little cabin sits high above the Clark Fork River.

The Tiny Farm flourishes. Just as it does, the Gardners will pack up their animals and jelly jars, their bundles of hand-spun yarn, their curiosity and industry, and move them all to a larger piece of land in Arlee.

They leave behind a couple of acres on Duck Bridge Lane that show a great bounty is possible from a very Tiny Farm.


When they first met, agriculture wasn't on their radar, and Michael didn't even want the property that became the couple's farm.

The interstate was close by, and so was a recycling place. Melanie, though, told her husband it was right on the river and it had an enormous barbecue patio.

Michael took a look.

"Immediately, I was like, ‘the river is right here and it's got this big old barbecue thing,’ ” he said.


They bought the land and small home, and their journey began – a path that would take those acres from a wasteland to a vibrant spread of earth, a place humming and churning with life.

Melanie cleaned up the property with a rolling magnet, picking up saw blades and other junk. In the yard, the couple built a garden, created the underground greenhouse and planted on a berm.

Early on, Melanie brought one of her horses to the property, and the couple got the pack horse a goat so it would have a companion.

They milked the goat, and they liked the results, so when Melanie leased out her horses, the couple got one more goat to keep the first company.

The newbie came with a couple of babies, and voila.

"We had a whole herd of goats out there immediately," Gardner said.


On the farm, Melanie brought a knack for understanding the ways of a garden and Michael brought enthusiasm.

"I'd be like, throwing seeds all over the place," he said.

Their interest in small, sustainable agriculture evolved over time, and the farm has become a stream of the couple's hobbies running together.

Michael grew more interested in food after working for the Montana Food Bank Network and learning to hunt with Melanie's stepdad. Melanie had grown up with the idea of self-sufficiency.

"I was raised with horses and gardens, and my grandparents were homesteaders, and it's just something that I've been sort of drawn to," she said.

She also runs a house cleaning business and drives a school bus, and Michael is the chief operations officer for an entrepreneur in Missoula.

Over the years, one labor of love catapulted into another and the couple's menagerie grew.

Knitting and tending goats came together when Melanie saw a free fiber goat advertised on Craigslist.

Since she already knitted, the couple added the fiber goat to the herd, and since Michael had an interest in not buying meat from the store, the Gardners brought on meat goats, too.

The names of the meat goats may foreshadow their destiny in the kitchen: Rosemary and Basil.

"I like all of them. They're all different, too," Melanie said. "The dairy goats are definitely more mischievous. They're the ones that like to try and get out all the time," Melanie said.


This month, the Tiny Farm was a rapturous and lively sliver of Montana despite the ashy skies.

In the hen house, Melanie collected eggs from 26 chickens and three ducks, searching around a coop that has an upside-down couch and rabbit hutch as bird furniture.

"We are very inventive with our chicken houses," Melanie said.

They're creative with the quarter-acre garden, too, planting vegetables in a mound made from a rotting log, a hugelkultur, and turning a berm into a place for raspberry bushes.

In the span of a couple of hours, Melanie had led the goats to pasture, lugged one sheep, dug parsnips from the hugelkultur, threw the green tops to the chickens, weighed plump tomatoes for garden shares and showed visitors the flowers she grows and uses to dye wool.

She planned to harvest honey, too.

It's busy, the Tiny Farm.

The couple talks about cutting back, but in truth, they both have ambition, and the new Tiny Farm is going to be even bigger.

"I have this really strange compulsion to own more land," Michael said.


This coming winter, the Gardners will move to their land in Arlee, to a Tiny Farm that will be 20 acres rather than just 2 acres. The original Tiny Farm is for sale.

The couple would like their new home to be more of a destination for the public, a farm where people can visit baby goats, get a glimpse of permaculture in action, and even be inspired to take one step in the direction of self-sufficiency.

"We try to do as much of that style as we can, but it's not entirely possible," Michael said. "Can we solve this without going in the store and buying this horrible hundred-dollar pesticide? ... "

"Doing it yourself and doing it small is totally viable."

"Especially if you're looking at a homestead to provide for yourself," Melanie said.

At the new farm, they have more room for their 12 goats and three sheep, and they may add other animals, although they recently ruled out peacocks for being too noisy.

"More than anything, we want an opportunity to do it right," Michael said. "We read all these books and we have all these examples of people doing small-scale agriculture in super-sustainable ways, and I think we want the chance to do that."

On the larger place, they'll continue to pursue their ethic of growing small, putting their own sweat and muscle to the task, lifting their own shovels and broad forks.

"If we can't do it by hand, then it's too big," Melanie said.

The original Tiny Farm showed them how to grow a bigger garden, and the brambly and rocky land with too many pinecones for Melanie's taste produces an abundance with their tending.

One thousand head of garlic.

Sixty pounds of food on just one Saturday for 10 garden shares.

Jars of golden honey.

"I haven't bought basil or thyme or savory forever. It just comes back," Melanie said.

Even goat milk ice cream with homegrown strawberries.

It's a favorite for Michael.

In the spring, he has looked for the return of the perennials, the chives and resilient oregano, and he's watched the slow unveiling of the bounty to come.