Parker Farms Blooms through Generations
Down a dirt road half a mile off Highway 200 in the Sun River Valley, you’ll find a garden oasis. Parker Farms Greenhouse is tucked back near the Sun River and is part of a fourth-generation legacy that started when Ralph and Anna “Joyce” Parker settled in Fort Shaw in 1929.
The Parkers started as truck farmers, selling vegetables to people nearby. After trying other enterprises, including raising sheep for a couple of years, they eventually went into dairy farming to improve cash flow. Being from Minnesota, “it’s what they knew,” said Gary Parker, one of five children of Ralph Jr. and Ethel Parker. After taking over the farm from his parents, Gary milked three barns of dairy cows over the years until 1990 and backgrounded dairy heifers for another 20 years after that.
Growing plants has always been Marilyn’s passion. She began the greenhouse business in 1997 with a plant sale to friends and neighbors. The business gradually grew from there, and they added improvements like heat, electricity and two more buildings for the greenhouse enterprise.
“The greenhouse started as a hobby,” Marilyn shared, and it was also a way to add value to the water sources on the farm and provide income. She added, “we had a hired man, whose wife needed a job, so we expanded into more of a commercial operation to provide them an opportunity for more income.”
“We’re small, uncrowded, and it’s comfortable.”Marilyn Parker
Their customers are mostly locals, but loyal customers come from as far as Idaho.
“We’re small, uncrowded, and it’s comfortable,” Marilyn said, adding that once in a while an elderly couple will just drive up and order plants from their vehicle.
“We bring it to their car, tell them how much, and they never even have to come into the building,” Marilyn said chuckling.
The buildings help tell the story of how Parker Farms has changed over the years. The biggest of the outbuildings, standing in the center of the yard, started as potato storage during truck-gardening years and was filled in to create storage for farm vehicles.
“You just evolve.” Marilyn said as she and Gary recounted the farm’s history. Both Marilyn and Gary speak to how the farm has changed over time and to a continued legacy. Both of their daughters have stayed involved in agriculture. Kyle Parker Metzger now farms in Alberta, B.C. with her husband. Anna Parker has moved back to the farm now that her job is permanently remote. She recently joined the newly formed Montana Premium Processing Co-op, a Havre based facility that MFU launched to provide more market options for livestock producers.
The Parker family’s purchase of a Co-op share is a pledge of support in getting the idea off the ground, having already experienced the need for more processing in the area.
With many meat cutters being booked a year or more out, they are eager for the MPPC to begin operations.
The Parker Family’s involvement in Farmers Union spans the generations, from Ralph Jr. serving as President to Gary pulling pranks on staff as a camper. Although the farm looks much different from when it first began, it’s hard to imagine one that doesn’t.
Find Parker Farms Greenhouse on Facebook or at 50 Parker Rd. in Fort Shaw.
Photo credit Zack Kephart.