169. Flathead Farmworks | April & Kurt Vomfell | Kalispell, MT

Today I have 2 guests here fromFlathead Farmworks in Kalispell close to me! Welcome April and Kurt! I am sorry about the sound folks. I did my best to play with the levels and make it as good as possible but I felt this couple added enough inspiration and knowledge it was worth it to keep the file.

It says on your Flathead Farmworks Facebook page that you grow vegetables, herbs and flowers using organic methods, and making the most of the northwest Montana climate. And that you believe that fresh, local ingredients result in delicious food.

Do you want to tell us more about your farm and what yo’ve got going on down there?

Flathead Farmworks

Neither of us from NW Montana,

We both really like the area and we both like to garden, doing it for fun.

Both like to cook in restaurants over the years.

Thought about doing that as a side business.

whole food fresh and local ingredients. It’s really cool how people in this area are into that lately. Something that is becoming important to people. We are in downtown Kalispell, right in the middle on a big city lot.

Trend of Local fresh food movement!

Kurt is a Landscape architect, well tell you about how that influences gardening for him. 

I have my office here in Kalispell.

Gardening and landscape architect, and design have always gone hand in hand for me.

Tell me about your first gardening experience?

Kurt: I grew up in Frasier MI, suburb north of Detroit. My Parents growing up had a garden. My dad was a big DIY-er so just helping them around the garden kind of inspired me. 

April: I grew up in Eastern Washington. Grew up we lived almost by the Canadian Border. My parents did this back to the land thing which was kind of hards. 

I was helping in the garden, till I was like 2 or 3? I was good at weeding the carrots because I had tiny little hands and lots of patience …

Seed Fair Carrot Seed Tape

Well that’s good because my listeners know I hate carrots because they are so small. Last year I did go to this seed fair where they made this seed tape and you just took strips of newspaper and a flour and water paste and stuck the carrot seeds to it and then could just plant the newspaper strips all evenly spaced. My solution has always been get the grandkids to do it. Maybe you were someone’s grandkid then?

How did you learn how to garden organically?

Basically, yeah, I think so, a lot of it was self taught, we were talking early about organic gardening and how we got into organic gardening

  • with our parents gardening there wasn’t really another option,  that was what you do.
  • maybe there were
  • pesticides were expensive or they didn’t have access to those. 

I like that.

Tell listeners about your place.

Our lot is a half acre….

originally started out all lawn in the backyard, over the last 3 years here. started by figuring out a big chunk in the middle.

  • 42×40 in the middle converted that into a garden
  • next year a little bit more
  • last year, we tore out – we cleared a spot for a green house
  • added a chicken coop
  • cleared some more spots for flower

more then a 1/3 of our space is growing space. Works out to about 4000 square feet…

Flathead Farmworks

So you’re living in a lot outside of Kalispell? There’s a house?

it’s all one place…

I have my design practice that I work out of my house. 

the mini-farm! That’s what I call our place.

  • micro farm
  • the back 40 we joke :~)

Tell us about something that grew well this year.

Tomatoes and cucumbers

It seemed like for everybody else this year they were kind of tough, but with the greenhouse. I built a 32 x 40 foot wide high tunnel/hoop house type structure.

It’s about half full of tomatoes and cucumbers that really produced quite a bit.

Last year, 2015 it got hot really quickly, so we had tomatoes the end of June.

This year the ones outside the greenhouse 

  • took forever
  • they were slow
  • took forever to ripen…

Now are you guys selling at the Farmer’s Market or the Grocery Store or to a CSA or what? How’s your system working?

  • We are selling mainly to restaurants.
  • local businesses that want a flower share
  • don’t have time to administer to farmer’s markets and CSA’s
  • don’t have enough product

We both have a full time job or business. We have to keep it as simple as we can

We supply one local restaurant predominantly

They pretty much take everything  we have to offer we buy…

OK, so I love this business model, and how did you find that one restaurant? Did you know someone there, or did you call a bunch or how did you find that connection?

Funny you ask that…

It’s where we had our first lunch date … our very first date!

That’s funny the 2 questions I usually ask most couples how did you meet and what do you make for dinner?

 After we got married, I decided to do my landscaping business… income is a little….

when I first started my design business I needed some extra money on the side… I picked up some side jobs… then I became friends with the owner … through working there as a cook  … his appreciation for good fresh food

  • surplus produce the first summer from the garden
  • evolved from that
  • selling more produce to him
  • summer 2016 the first big year
  • full season of selling farm…

You said you started working there waiting tables? Cooking?

Cooking… just to make make a little extra money on the side and he turned out to be a good guy and he buys a lot of our produce.

So are there any tips you would give someone starting out to sell to a restaurant? Definitely say this don’t say that?

I think for us, we’re not real big

  • we don’t like to over promise….
  • not to over commit,
  • farming’s unpredictable…
  • push

make sure

How does that work? How does he know what to order to the regular market how does he know what you are going to provide?

That’s the hardest thing about having a small operation …

I think this is going to be inspiring to new people who want to try to just find one restaurant.

It really takes finding a chef that doesn’t mind the unpredictability

  • ordering what you bring in
  • if they order from different purveyors and have different order sheets and modifying things
  • they don’t have the time to work with the unpredictability
  • I have this and I don’t have this

Flathead Farmworks Flowers and Chickens

Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?

We also grow flowers…. that was kind of  new thing this year, we’ve done the vegetable garden, cut flowers to sell, big experiment, trying all different kinds of things…

One thing we would definitely not do again is we put some dahlias in the greenhouse.

  • they for the space we have and the quantity we were able to grow
  • wasn’t efficient
  • pests
  • ear wig year for everyone
  • powdery mildew

In the greenhouse harder to control or get in hand

things can happen quickly

Now we know some things now to prepare better for  or prevent before they happen.

  • well for the ear wigs for instance I learned the later in the season. I dind’t realise the flowers were gonna be damage by them,
  • you can put down some natural pest control early on when they’re really small, rather then once they are already doing damage… it’s harder to get a handle on it then,
  • do traps, get the live ones once they’re there

An ounce of prevention is better then a lb of cure is true

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Let’s Get to the Root of Things!

Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden?

There’s always weeding!

APRIL: Well’s that’s funny Kurt was like there’s weeding, but I actually kind of enjoy weeding, under the right circumstances, I can clear an entire bed and be out there for 3 hours and be ok with it because I go into my weeding mode.  We have different opinions

I think that’s good to complement each other. I think a lot of my guests say they like that meditative state to weeding as long as it doesn’t get out of hand. 

Kurt: Harvesting potatoes is quite a bit of work sometimes.

especially if it gets out of hand

some things we don’t sell, don’t have any machinery for harvesting other then a rototiller for soil obviously

everything’s done by hand

Potatoes we don’t really sell, keep those…

Onions that are high labor as far as planting we sell some of those but not a lot

  • sell mostly things that are fresh off the vine and have a fruit
  • works well for us tomatoes, cucumbers…

I think people are feeling a little relief, maybe I don’t have to try to grow all those things, I don’t know how to grow all those things yet, I can start with these easier simpler tasks.

What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?

If it has to be related to still getting something accomplished – I enjoy raking that freshly tilled soil … That’s his form of meditation… raking it all perfectly flat.

Nice! It doesn’t have to be task related or accomplish-related. Lots of people say enjoying the garden, drinking coffee… taking pictures

April: I think my favorite I would call it puttering, see what’s growing, see what;s flowering… tasting.. poking. maybe pull a weed or something…

Me too… I decided my favorite thing is just to paint the garden and that’s gonna be my focus!

What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?

For both of because a lot of what we have learned is self-taught and studying observations the best advice I have is

you’re never gonna be an amazing gardener after a certain amount of practice

It’s a constant thing…

  • ever year is gonna be different and 
  • your gonna have different challenges and weather and pests…
  • different things are gonna come
  • my parents back in Washington
  • they’ve been gardening for 30 years
  • last year they were so baffled that gophers ate all of their garlic – sucked them down from underneath!
  • something your gonna learn all the time, and your gonna fail
  • never perfection is gonna be achieved.
  • Hopefully that’s reassuring.

I think that’s very reassuring. IDK if you know Mandy Gerth and her husband Jay have lower valley Farm south of Kalispell, and she talked about in Montana it’s almost easier in a lot of ways then in Southern Indiana where she is from because the cold winters and weather reduce our pests.

A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what could you not live without?

Kurt: I think my favorite hand tool is the garden rake, it might have to be the rototiller, it does the most of my work, it’s the only power tool I have right now. 

April: My favorite small tool, a knee board with foam board on it… we call it Neil… We’ll be like hey have you seen Neil lately

I think if we were moving

I’d take my wheelbarrow

That’s what I said.. it would be hard ot replace… you could make a shovel out of cardboard or a stick but a wheelbarrow does a lot of work…

This morning I was outside chopping wood… hauling it to the front porch, I used it all winter for that.

Sometimes we haul it with a sled… but we definitely use the wheelbarrow…

A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?

Kurt: for me, I think we each have an answer, a new one this year, we had grown some red cabbage this year, I made this red cabbage soup with sausage

Cabbage Soup

  • a bunch of fresh herbs
  • garden veggies
  • spiced with cinnamon cloves
  • nutmeg
  • apple layer….  soup full of garden veggies and herbs

beets, really pretty red color….

CanningLarder.jpg

April: So one of the things, this is a cop out, I like fermented things,

  • sauer kraut,
  • kim chee
  • pickled beets
  • pickled beans
  • gonna be sometime in February, we’ll dig up the rest of our carrots, I make a batch

still fresh veggies in the ground after winter

A favorite internet resource?

Kurt:

April: When we were thinking about growing flowers

  • how do you grow them
  • how do you space them
  • what types of cut flowers
  • I think I found them on instagram first and then Floret Flowers found them on the website in Western Washington

Erin has become really well known nationwide,

  • impressive thing bout what they do,
  • she shares so much of her knowledge and experience on her blog
  • what are the best flowers to grow
  • spacing
  • pests
  • starting things from seed
  • It’s amazing the amount of information you can find from her website!!!

Well fingers crossed she’s gonna do an interview with me this spring she has a new book coming out!

Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden

 

(And as most of you know I recorded this back in Dec and interviewed Erin in Feb and now it’s APRIL! Ahhhh I’m trying to get caught up listeners!)

Floret Garden Journal and Daily Planner 2017 Cultivating Beauty

A favorite reading material-book, mag, blog/website etc you can recommend?

Seed Savers Exchange Garden Planner

Seed Savers has a really good garden planner.

  • very full of information
  • quick and easy to use
  • I use drafting software for my design work
  • everything built in tells you all the varieties and quick easy to use

another resource

BigBugHuntLogo

The Big Bug Hunt

  • I think they are made of founders of seed savers in their newsletter
  • what they are trying to do is gather info from gardeners all over the country about what bugs to see patterns and help people predict what bugs might be coming their way
  • see how weather is affecting things and
  • people can see info pests taking care of them if you get them
  • cool, outdoor bug information for gardeners!

If you have a business to you have any advice for our listeners about how to sell extra produce or get started in the industry?

For us, since we’re such a small operation with our personality,

  • do what things grow well approach
  • where we have space and time
  • take time to experiment on the side.
  • try not to do too many things that we can’t do well

both really concerned about quality

selling to a restaurant or selling flowers to a florist

We don’t want to have a bunch of things people are not happy with, you want just a few good high quality things you can be proud of…. Having that high standard!

Final question- if there was one change you would like to see to create a greener world what would it be? For example is there a charity or organization your passionate about or a project you would like to see put into action. What do you feel is the most crucial issue facing our planet in regards to the environment either in your local area or on a national or global scale?

APRIL: I think I’ll answer the first part and Kurt will take the big part.

Creating a greener world

our focus is on fresh local produce

it’s amazing how much we have learned along the way

Flathead Farmworks Carrots and herbs

how much of our produce and flowers are shipped from so far away from the USA from south America we would like to see more people growing what they can on their own property,

  • in the backyard
  • inside on the porch

buying local

knowing where you food comes from

There’s such a big different taste in local food even if it’s organic maybe it’s still shipped from thousands of miles away. More local and more people are willing to try. More people are excited about!

Kurt: So, what is the most crucial issue facing our planet… I’ll just speak to the use of our resources, conservation approach and wise use approach. I don’t want to jump to the global warming thing… Just wise use of our resources…I would love to see that.  As a landscape architect we’re stewards of the environment so those go hand in hand. 

Do you have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?

I would say start small, and don’t be afraid to fail, experiment it’s all trial and error it’s a learning process

you could make a shovel out of cardboard if you need to

all the things, use tools, just a shovel, and seeds, and a watering can

even better….

How do we connect with you?

Flathead Farm Works Facebook Page

Found us on Facebook Flathead Farmworks,

Flathead Farmworks Instagram

Instagram

flatheadfarmworks@gmail.com

We don’t have a website yet. Maybe eventually….

We love to hear from people locally, interested in growing or getting organic produce….

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