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Saving Raven Ridge Farm

By Beacon Staff

Click the image or use the arrows to see more photographs from a Friday morning at Raven Ridge Farm.

On a recent Friday morning, just a couple miles east of downtown Kalispell, Val Edwards hopped onto her old Ford tractor at Raven Ridge Farm to pull a trailer full of squash over to the tarps where the vegetable could sit in the sun and cure.

Fridays are the laid-back day on the farm. Thursdays are pretty hectic, Edwards said, because it’s food distribution day – the day when local residents drop by to pick up their share of the crop.

“I love seeing the families,” Edwards said. “I love when the families pick out their food every week.”

Edwards can’t say where her favorite spot on the farm is, nor can she say where the latest crop of garlic will go. The problem, she said, is the possibility of a septic system that the landowners may put in the middle of the field.

As a tenant farmer, Edwards has no control over where the owners want to dig or when the owners decide to sell the farm.

“It puts me in an unstable position as a farmer,” Edwards said.

The current landowners are moving from the valley and want to sell the land, Edwards said. They have offered it to Raven Ridge, but have also taken steps to increase its value by applying for residential zoning, she said. It’s possible that she could keep renting from new owners, but it’s the other possibilities that bothers Edwards.

“If they were to sell it to someone else, someone’s going to want to put a house on it,” Edwards said.

The farm can’t afford to buy it outright, Edwards said, and she is taking steps to raise money for the $10,000 down payment. One of those steps is the Raven Ridge Harvest Fundraiser, beginning Sept. 25.

Erin Burke-Webster, a work-share volunteer, is spearheading the event.

“It’s hard to raise extra funds when you are putting so much into the ground,” Burke-Webster said. “I had no idea how much it took, especially for an off-the-grid farm in Montana, to operate.”

As a Community Supported Agriculture farm, Raven Ridge operates as a vehicle to reconnect locals with their food supply, Edwards said. The families pay for a summer share of organic vegetables and pick them up the same day every week, starting in May and ending in October.

The farm sits on about 2.2 acres of land near the Stillwater River and can produce enough food for 60 families, Edwards said. Everything from garlic to tomatoes are grown on the land.

Electricity is provided by solar panels and water comes from a nearby irrigation canal. The vegetables are also traded with local farmers and businesses to provide eggs, yak and bison meat, cherries, bread and honey to its subscribers.

Educational opportunities and other community events are part of the driving force behind purchasing the land, Edwards said. There is potential to expand into a neighboring field, to feed up to 150 families and to obtain non-profit status, she said, but it all begins with buying the land.

“My vision for a lot of this is that the CSA members will feel that this farm is theirs too,” Edwards said.

Buying the farm would also be an exercise in open space preservation, Burke-Webster said. With so much focus on housing developments in the Flathead, it is important to maintain local food sources, she said.

The Harvest Fundraiser begins with a $1 garage sale on Sept. 25, 26 and 27 at 22 Fifth Ave. W.

Friday, Oct. 2, features a farm day event at Raven Ridge. There will be farm tours, fresh food, music and workshops on various topics, including sustainability and container gardening.

On Saturday, Oct. 3, there is a silent art auction and raffle in the upstairs room at Red’s Wines and Blues. There will be live music, and local food and drinks for purchase. The art is available for viewing on Sept. 28.

Edwards said she has until the end of the year to come up with the down payment because she may not be able to afford to wait longer than that.

All members of the public are welcome to attend the events, Burke-Webster said.

“I think it’s a really special place and I definitely encourage people to come down and experience it,” Burke-Webster said. “Once you get involved, you kind of get hooked.”

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