When Bryce Christiaens and his partner began Native Ideals Seed Company in the Jocko Valley, the duo planned to sell native wildflower seed for large-scale restoration projects.
Six years later, they grow a variety of flowers and harvest the seeds mainly for retail sale to people interested in water-wise landscaping. To do so, they had to change their business plan and perfect the way they grow and harvest through a series of modifications, Christiaens told participants in an Envisioning Your Farm class at the Montana State University Extension’s Missoula office.
Today, Native Ideals seeds can be found in about 80 retail locations across the state in packets that a grant helped fund and produce, he said.
Tapping into other state resources, such as Made in Montana, also helped boost sales and connections, he added.
Saturday’s class was the first in a four-part series of Planning for On-Farm Success courses offered by the Community Food Agriculture Coalition of Missoula County, which partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and several other groups to put on the series.
Christiaens’ presentation highlighted what class participants should consider when setting goals for their own operations and for coming up with a plan that will help them secure financing, said Annie Heuscher, the organization’s program manager.
The CFAC’s mission is to increase local food in the food system, which means helping new farmers be successful, Heuscher said.
Doing so is especially important considering that the average age of Montana farmers is 57 to 59 years old, Heuscher said, and most of the agricultural land across the state is expected to change hands in the next 20 years.
People are interested in picking up the torch. However, many don’t realize the resources that are available or how to access them, she said. “It’s hard for people to know where to start.”
Knowing that there’s interest in starting farms, the CFAC is offering the classes for the first time to help get people connected to resources they need and to keep agriculture as a viable part of the economy, she said.
Top hurdles for new farmers – whether they are young, middle-aged or old – are acquiring land and financing, Heuscher said.
Many new farmers don’t have the benefit of generational land and they need to find their own, which can be a difficult process because of development pressures, she said.
More than 60 beginning farmers are signed up for the CFAC’s Land Link program, which connects beginning farmers with land that’s available, showing there is interest from people who don’t currently own land and want to farm, she added.
Financing also is tough for beginning farmers to secure, and one of the classes will focus on different resources for better understanding finances so farmers can do more with smaller budgets, Heuscher said.
The first class was helpful to Hunter Lydon, who decided after a year-and-a-half of working through World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms that farming is his calling.
Hearing from another farmer who’s successful and being told about resources bolstered his plans to start a farm in the Potomac area, where he and his partners plan to grow medicinal herbs, mushrooms, ginseng and more.
“I really want to grow my own food, know where it comes from,” the
37-year-old Missoula newcomer said.
While his heart is dedicated to the work, his brain is not as strong as it could be on the business side of things, he said, and the class was helpful in giving him resources.
“If anything, it’s made me think about more things,” he said, adding he hopes to begin growing this year.
Mary Bricker and Noah Jackson already are growing mixed vegetables and have laying hens and feeder hens, but are pursuing their dream of a pick-your-own berry operation.
The young couple decided after growing their own food last year at their H-Brace Farm that they should expand their operation to make the time and effort more worthwhile. Both are biologists, but said they would like to become full-time farmers.
In order to expand, they needed more land, but couldn’t find any they could afford in Missoula because of the development-driven prices. Recently, they purchased a spread in Hamilton and are transitioning.
“It’s a long-term game,” Jackson said, but one they’re willing to play for the community connection and environmental impact they can make.
The class enabled them to think more constructively about different pieces of the business canvass, such as what their market would be and managing risks, Bricker said.
“Getting some good tools and framework to put that all together,” she added.
Joe Naiman-Sessions dreams of starting his own farm on 10 acres in the Helena area and came to the class to learn more about tapping into financing from both traditional and non-traditional sources.
Other than backyard experimenting, he doesn’t have an ag background.
“But I have a passion for food and growing,” the 28-year-old said.
Ideally, he would have an orchard, poultry and a market garden that would keep him busy full time.
Completing worksheets on goal setting and information from the class will be helpful, he said. “I took pages and pages of notes.”
People can still register for upcoming classes, which include marketing your products, Feb. 8; planning for financial success, March 1; managing risks and assets, March 22.
To help facilitate people’s participation, the classes are offered in person and online, Heuscher said, adding she’s pleased by the turnout so far.
Participation in the classes will provide people with a network and support in between sessions to flesh out their ideas, she added. “What we’re hoping will come out of it is to really build a partnership between all the people who will be presenting.”
For class costs and more detailed information, go to www.missoulacfac.org/planning-for-on-farm-success.html or contact Heuscher at firstname.lastname@example.org or 406-763-6862.