By Laura Garber
Farming is not just a job or a lifestyle for us. We co-operate Homestead Organics Farm, a 14 acre certified organic mixed vegetable, seed, poultry, and hemp farm located south of Hamilton, Montana. For us, farming is an opportunity to empower youth, build community, and demonstrate resilience. I started Homestead Organics Farm back in 1999 and was joined by Henry in 2009. Together we have grown the farm into an educational center and community gathering place. Homestead Organics Farm is the ‘Farm-Classroom’ for Cultivating Connections, the non-profit educational program that Laura directs. The farm is also the home of the Montana Poultry Growers Cooperative’s ‘Poultry Processing Facility’, which was partially funded by a generous grant from Farmers Union Enterprise.
The Loyal To Local Cooperative’s ‘Multi-Producer Community Supported Agriculture’ (CSA) program is also housed at the farm. Homestead Organics Farm has crops and trees, chickens, heritage turkeys, goats and pot-bellied pigs for petting, a pond for swimming and boating, a large commercial kitchen for catering and small food processing, and a stage for musical performances and early morning yoga classes.
The farm is situated between two busy roads, making it a visible part of the Hamilton community and an easy place for families, school classes, and groups to visit and experience small scale sustainable agriculture.Henry grew up in a small village outside of East Berlin, Germany. He is an apprenticed Bee Keeper and a Zoo Animal Keeper, as well as an accomplished Timber-Framer and wood worker. Henry immigrated to the United States at the age of 28, and landed in Hamilton, Montana! Growing up, Henry’s parents both played important roles in the local agriculture of the former East Germany: his mother as a researcher/extension agent in herb farming for the Humbolt University of Berlin; his father as the farm manager for the regional vegetable farm that supplied and fed their village. Henry grew up in a time and place where small scale, local agriculture was what fed the community, and fondly remembers participating in farming at every age and with every school class. Henry combines his love for animals with his skills and background to be a farmer, crafter, farm-teacher, and advocate for chemical-free agriculture. I grew up in small-town Wisconsin and moved to Montana in 1994 to attend the University of Montana. I ran the University ASUM student garden for two years and was in the initial class of students in the PEAS Program in sustainable agriculture and society at the University of Montana before starting my own small vegetable farm in 1999. I am a founding member of several cooperatives and believe strongly in the power of communities to create a better world together. I also serve on the boards of multiple state-wide non-profit organizations and cooperatives, and started the non-profit Cultivating Connections as a vehicle for agriculture education and community building.
As farm educators, we use Cultivating Connections as the vehicle for educational and community building programs, including the Youth Farm Internship program, the Kinder-Gardeners program, and the Community Round Table Series. Montana Farmers Union has been a supporter of the Youth Farm Internship for the past three years, which trains new young farmers while empowering them to be actively engaged citizens. The internship program employs high school youth and uses the CSA model to teach seasonal small farming practices. The interns grow food for their own 20-week CSA program and donate the weekly share boxes of organic produce to kindergarten families and teachers, as well as the Bitterroot Youth Home and its staff. Interns grow and make fresh salads for delivery to the Meals on Wheels program of the Ravalli County Council on Aging. The interns also lead ‘Special Abilities Camp’, a day camp for children with autism.
We are vocal in our advocacy for a healthy future for everyone. We use the farmers’ market booth as well and our farm to help educate the public about the importance of growing non-GMO crops and of eliminating all harmful chemicals from agriculture. We are excited to meet other farmers across the country through the FUE program and to share their passion for a healthy future with farmers in different places.
We want to thank Montana Farmers Union and its members and FUE for the support and education they provide and for the opportunities to connect as farmers for a future that works for everyone. Thank you!