From its Own Garden, Flathead Industries Provides for Those in Need

By Beacon Staff

There is a sense of pride involved in growing a garden. Coaxing life from the earth with your own bare hands offers rewards that are both easy to measure, like the pounds of vegetables, and harder to define, like the feeling you get when it’s all done. It just feels good to grow your own food.

This year, more than 20 adults with developmental disabilities at Flathead Industries learned how good it feels to not only grow their own food but also enough to share with others. They assisted with a large garden off of Church Drive that produced an assortment of vegetables, including corn, squash, green beans, carrots and about 13 tons of potatoes.

The vegetables were supplied to Flathead Industries’ group homes and supported-living units. Some produce was sold at the organization’s Kalispell thrift store. And thousands of pounds of potatoes were distributed to local food banks and other services, including the Agency on Aging’s Meals on Wheels program.

Last week, Flathead Industries delivered 1,000 pounds of potatoes to the Kalispell National Guard Armory for its holiday dinner and 2,000 pounds to the Northwest Montana Veterans Food Pantry, which serves homeless, at-risk and low-income veterans.

Flathead Industries also donated 6,100 pounds of potatoes to the Flathead Food Bank, 2,000 pounds to Whitefish’s North Valley Food Bank and a shipment to the Columbia Falls food bank.

“You can’t imagine the pride our guys have to donate to other places,” Mike Allen, Flathead Industries’ business and operations director, said. “It’s really a cool thing that they’re enjoying doing.”

Flathead Industries, a nonprofit, was founded in 1973 and offers vocational rehabilitation, work services and residential services to people with developmental disabilities. It operates three thrift stores in Kalispell, Columbia Falls and Whitefish, as well as two other work areas: the “Production Center” and “Rag Barn.”

Bill Hughes ties one of the last bags of potatos dropped off at the Northwest Montana Veteran’s Food Pantry in Evergreen on Nov. 14. – Justin Franz | Flathead Beacon.

The thrift stores and other two locations offer opportunities for individuals with developmental disabilities of varying degrees to perform tasks that help build their work and life skills.

Herb Koenig, who owns the Rag Barn property with wife Vonnie, approached Flathead Industries in the spring with the idea of putting a garden on their farm property, Allen said. The idea gained traction and with the assistance of people like Steve Streich, who donated the potato seeds, the garden quickly became a streamlined operation under the direction of Koenig and Marsh.

Flathead Industries was able to give its eager workers the pleasurable opportunity of getting their hands dirty in the garden, which turned out to resemble a small farm.

“It was huge,” Allen said. “And it was really beautiful.”

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