Local Hamilton Farm Bringing Education and Loyalty to Community Agriculture with help of Montana Women's Business Center

In February of 2002, Laura Garber and husband Henry Wuensche, started Homestead Organics Farm in Hamilton, Montana.  For over a decade the farm has served as a gathering place for food and learning in the Bitterroot Valley. The farm encompasses 14 acres, including; six unheated greenhouses, 350-foot-long rows of fruit and nut trees, a farm stand, a 10’ x 12’ walk-in cooler, and a certified commercial kitchen. 

This family-run vegetable farm serves as one of the farms within the Community Support Agriculture (CSA) program and an on-site farm stand from summer through fall. Within the CSA program, Homestead Organics offers produce on a sliding scale to its members serving from two to eight people.  Participants in the CSA program pledge to support one or more local farms, therefore growers and consumers share in the risks and benefits of food production. In return they  receive monthly shares of produce, grains, cut flowers, eggs and a variety of meat including pork, lamb and soon to be poultry and artisan cheese.

Homestead Organics Farm is dedicated to building a local food system and to educating the community about the importance of local agriculture.  The farm hosts several community celebrations each year including an annual May Day Celebration and a Fall Harvest Festival.  Recently they also received one of the 100 greenhouses provided to Montana farmers through the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), which helps them expand their growing season.

Laura also spearheaded the formation of the Loyal to Local Community Agriculture Cooperative in order to connect farmers and add value to local agricultural products through community engagement.  Montana agricultural producers who become shareholders will use the cooperative as a framework for working together, and also engages consumers as members.  Consumers will benefit from reconnecting with farmers and participating directly in creating a sustainable Montana food system.

In 2009, Homestead Organics Farm expanded their operations and began raising and breeding poultry. Since then, they have developed a loyal following of local customers who sign up for their certified organic holiday birds and meat chickens.

In December 2014, Laura began working with the Montana Women’s Business Center Sub-Center in Hamilton to explore the expansion for the poultry process facility. Julie Foster and John Schneeberger together counseled Laura over the next 18 months providing financial analysis, projections, product costing, and helping her to understand her profit margins. They provided assistance with the Montana Department of Agriculture grant proposal process and provided referrals to resources like MSU Extension, and the USDA. Jan Tusick, Director of the Mission Mountain Food Enterprise Center, provided a great deal of technical assistance and support for the poultry facility and accessing funds from a private foundation that supports local food projects.

There is currently no publically available poultry processing facility in the entire state of Montana.  Many small producers need the butchering services a processing facility can offer so that they can continue  to raise birds, increase their production, and legally sell their birds to the public.  New growers need a place to learn about poultry production.  They need to know that the birds they produce can be processed in a facility that will license them for retail or commercial sale.  Community members are interested in the origin of their food and want to see where and how their poultry is being processed to verify it is being done in a humane and sustainable manner.  All these needs will be met by Homestead Organics process facility. 

In May 2015, WBC Advisor Julie assisted in the strategy for creating a successful Kickstarter campaign and helped by contacting the media and other local support. The dedication and support from the Montana WBC Sub-Center counselors helped Homestead Organics Farm access over $22,000 in crowd funding through Kickstarter. These funds were used as a match toward a $10,500 Montana Department of Agriculture Grant for a total of $32,500. These funds will be used for equipment and materials to build a state-licensed poultry processing facility with an attached incubation and brooding classroom.

“The poultry processing facility will provide year around income and greatly enhance the farm and its ability to provide a valued product while offering fantastic educational, work and business opportunities,” said Foster. “The new facility will have a value beyond dollars for both the farm and the community at large, impacting  other Montana agricultural producers and processors, especially those producing poultry feed by providing farmers with the opportunity to safely and legally raise, butcher and sell poultry.”

In August 2015, a community ground-breaking picnic was held at Homestead Organics Farm, celebrating the start of construction for the facility, scheduled to be by late October.