Friday, September 22, 2006

New Farm - Homestead Organics - Hamilton Montana

Homestead Organics

Hamilton, Montana

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

It’s so damn cold. I awoke this morning after coughing myself unconscious last night. Given the choice between sleeping in a trailer and sleeping in a teepee I of course chose the teepee. It didn’t take me long to realize that the teepee was the colder of the two options, what with the huge gaping hole in the middle of the ceiling. I could feel my throat getting scratchy just standing inside. Though this was no ordinary teepee. Huddled against the back wall was a futon covered in blankets, and a very tacky gold ornamented lamp had been hung from it’s wire directly overhead. After spending a few moments trying to figure out how to turn it on, I decided “Hey, let’s go check out that trailer.”

It was quite warm inside as the beautiful sunshine from the day had heated this metal contraption up quite nicely. I’ve slept in some strange places this trip. In fact, every night ends up being a strange place, relative to where I spend most of my nights in regular life.

I had arrived at the farm a little after six. Hungry I stuffed an apple in my pocket and ripped into my bag of BBQ potato chips, before going inside. Taking a quick look around, the first thing I noticed was a ginormous pumpkin sitting on a pallet. The color was a creamy orange. I gave it a tap and it made a nice hollow thump, just like you would expect a pumpkin to.

I headed around to the main door and was greeted by Paul Grimmet. He invited me in and I had a seat at the kitchen table. It was his night for kitchen duty and he was in the middle of cooking what I would later find to be a superb meal of emu spaghetti. Paul’s two kids, Henry and Helen were playing and watching t.v. in the next room. It didn’t take them long to warm up enough to begin begging me to go jump on the trampoline with them. Paul answered for me saying, “He’s been riding his bicycle for 50 miles today, I don’t think he wants to go jumping on the trampoline.”

Paul and his wife, Laura Garber, had been farming for the last eight years. Apparently things had gotten started with Laura’s small backyard garden. Paul was working for a restoration company at the time where he supervised plantings at reclamation sites, primarily for closed mines. He had studied forestry at the University in Missoula, but this job was keeping him on the road 6-8 months a year, and that’s not the kind of job he wanted.

He requested a position that would take him off the road and he was given the job of bidding on new contracts. After a year they wanted him to go back to field planting, only this time not as a crew chief. He’d had enough and walked away. Jobs are scarce in this neck of the woods, so his most immediate option seemed to be to step up Laura’s garden business. It didn’t seem to be a conscious decision at the time to turn this into their livelihood; it just seemed like the only option at the time. With the added labor and attention, the potential really began to reveal itself. That was five years ago.

Now the farm hires 2-3 interns for seasonal labor, operates a CSA for 80 people, does some wholesale of their salad greens for a local distributor, has a three day a week farm stand, and they have just built a new house, have expanded their acreage owned and acreage cultivated and in general seem to be doing quite well.

The property is littered with accommodations for interns. The original house where they lived before completing their new house is where the two girls, Leslie and ______-- live. I slept in the trailer, and then there is the tepee.

The view of the mountains is spectacular. The farm borders Hwy 93 so the constant hum of traffic is somewhat annoying for work in the fields. In fact, the farm is soon to be bordered on all sides by mega suburban developments. Just across the street from them they are building 180 homes. This staggered me, but for a farm like Homestead, this may well be welcome news. Since their customer base is local, and the more local the better, new people moving in, and people with money at that, may be exactly what they need to keep growing.

They’ll be boxed in tight soon. Paul gave me some figures of what some of the surrounding properties are selling for and the option of buying more land just isn’t an option any longer. He talks a little about the challenge of keeping two pigs in an environment like this, “the smell is terrible,” he explains. Not to mention he has become more visible over the years drawing the attention of state well inspectors that want him to do more regular testing of his well water, which he uses to wash and clean his produce, as well as county regulators that want to tax his new home as a commercial structure since he also uses the house as a farm stand and business office. Part of the cost of growth I presume.

Paul and Laura have grown accustomed to the bustle of visitors, volunteers, interns and WWOOFers. This is the first farm I’ve stayed on that supports WWOOFers so I should explain what that is.

WWOOF – stands for Willing Workers On Organic Farms and is an international association of farms that provide temporary room and board for individuals who want to work on organic farms. It has become an extremely popular method of inexpensive travel abroad in places like New Zealand, Europe and South America. The farm provides two meals a day, and a place to lay your head in exchange for a commitment to stay and work for three weeks. I think they ask for at least 4 hours of work a day, or something like that. It is an extremely low cost way of fulfilling labor needs on the farm, and keeps an interesting, and quite intelligent group of individuals rotating through on a regular basis.

Homestead Organics has two WWOOFers or more accurately, one and one former WWOOFer who has been elevated to intern status as she has been here for more than two months now. Both are young female college graduates (cute I might add) who have a natural gravitational pull to a culture of food.

That’s all for now… fingers are all numb plus it’s time to have cup of coffee and get to work.


  • 9/28/2006 9:55 PM Rebekah wrote:
    I still enjoy reading about your travels! Almost there! I've been thinking about the T-shirt submissions and I think I should win since I started the whole weekly T-shirt contest. For my prize, a complimentary copy of your book when published.

  • 10/5/2006 2:35 PM Dan Chouinard wrote:
    So grateful to hear about your travels through Adventure Cycling's e-newsletter. Wow. Bravo, and thanks for what you're doing.

    I worked on a WWOOF farm in the south of France in 2002 during a summer of bicycling Europe with tent and small accordion. I recall noticing throughout that trip that the musicmaking was best when it followed a day of hard work - whether on the bike or in the gardens - and when it was accompanied by good local food (and drink). It's a timeless combination I heartily recommend: well-earned rest, do-it-yourself music and food from close to home.

    Like many, I suppose, I'd love to jump on the bike and join you, but I'll content myself with checking in on your journals now whenever I can. Safe travels.

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