Working the Land

By Beacon Staff

Voters in Columbia Falls, Kalispell and Whitefish chose four newly elected women to help run their cities.

In Whitefish, newly elected Pam Barberis helps with local agriculture advocacy. Jen Frandsen grew up on a farm and helps organized the Whitefish Farmers Market. Jenny Lovering was the top vote getter in Columbia Falls and also director of the community garden. Sandy Carlson from Kalispell has a long history of service and advocacy.

More women are entering politics. The majority of Montana House Democrats are women. Women candidates tend to win and are good at governing.

In the Flathead, farmers like Judy Owsowitz, Val Edwards, Mary Tuck, Rebecca Ulizio, and Pam Gerwe have 100 years of collective farming experience. They each operate small farms.

Families choose to purchase directly from area growers during the summer farmers’ markets. Many farms also offer a weekly box of in-season produce.

Barb Brant from Montana Coffee Traders hosts Whitefish’s last indoor farmers market at their downtown location on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving.

Terri Feury from the Finn Biscuit typically brings her local holiday breads. Wendi Arnold from Flathead Lake Cheese often has incredible aged Gouda. Expect to find fall vegetables like squash, onions, cabbage, kale, carrots and potatoes.

Heather Estrada runs Flathead Valley Community Valley’s agricultural program. Estrada previously worked in Creston at the agricultural research center on wheat.

Estrada and FVCC now offer an associate program of applied science in integrated agriculture and food systems. A Land Link program helps connect young farmers to Flathead farmland. This year the college was host to Kalispell’s busy farmers’ market.

Jennifer Montague is the food services director at the Kalispell public schools. Montague received much press on nutrition and works with local farmers and ranchers to source foods for school.

June Munski-Feenan has been running the Whitefish food bank since 1977 and has literally fed thousands of hungry kids. With Congress making another round of draconian cuts to food programs, volunteers like Munksi-Feenan seek more local donations during the holidays.

The Flathead is home to new farmers like Susan Waite of Earthstar Farm, Sarah Harding of Buggy Road Farm and Brooke Bohannon of the Wicked Good Farm. Robin Kelson from the Good Seed Company opened in Whitefish to sell open-pollinated and heirloom seeds.

Nourish the Flathead is a nonprofit promoting local farms and food. Nourish has a nice farm map online. Jean Kramer from Kettle Care and Gretchen Boyer from the Montana Academy are active volunteer board members. May Conley coordinated FVCC’s garden plots.

Women are clear leaders in Flathead’s food movement. There are plenty of good guys working the farm, tending the carrots or cows. And big leaders like Jay Stagg run Whitefish schools’ food services.

Montana farmers and ranchers produce a lot of food. Seventy-five percent of Montana is still crop, hay and grazing lands.

State law requires an income capitalization approach to valuate property taxes for most of the private land. This keeps agriculture property tax values low and stable, unless there is a surge in the market price of wheat – as occurred in the preceding years.

Today’s farmers also face bigger weather-related crop losses. Thousands of cattle can die in a single pre-winter storm, and an entire field of chard or kale can be devastated by more frequent summer hailstorms.

More small farms are springing up around the Flathead. That’s an encouraging sign. Next summer’s farmers’ markets will again help vitalize the cities with local apples, peaches, vegetables, berries, cheese, bread, bratwurst and lamb chops.

With winter calling, some locals are putting up their own garden produce and stocking shelves from area farmers. Families will still find select local crops at the grocer, and luckily Kalispell Kreamery’s yogurt and milk products are available year-round.

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