I’m super excited to introduce my featured guest Matthew Broughton from 3 Fiddles Farm.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I guess since this is farm related I’ll give you some history of myself and our farm. In our pre interview you asked me how old I was. I am 4 days away from being 44. Being a farmer is a relatively new career for me.
I came to farming 9 years ago.
My background, is I am the son of a marine that traveled around the US and Europe for most of my childhood without having a home.
When my dad left the marine corps we came to Montana
Went to MSU and studied biological sciences and I got a job after graduation as a research associate studying
organic cropping systems
I had never grown a vegetable for food and I had never really had a garden
then I met my wife, when we met she was already in 2007 a professional farmer.
We were married in 2008.
I promptly became an organic farmer
Was your dad from Montana?
My family came to Montana
in the early 1980s late 1970s on a vacation
when he was a young man in the 1960s maybe 50s he came here before he went into the Marine Corps to become a cowboy. Back then Montana had a lot of Cowboys, instead of trucks and 4 wheelers.
Worked in timber and also worked in Jackson hole
infected with the west
Louis LaMore novels
he had this idealized dream of what Montana was
when he retired from the Marine Corps he bought a little ranchette in the mountains and that’s how we ended up here.
In late ‘80s
move I went to university and studied organic ag.
I went to grad school at MSU and was considering a PHD program but the majority of the places that were applicable for my field of students which was mechanical pesticides
none were in the mountains
Kansas State and Purdue and places where the mountains were badly erased by the glaciers. Decided not to go on and pursue a phD and stayed in Bozeman
I’m a musician
started playing with the Bridger Street boys
The band had enough momentum and business
didn’t leave Bozeman
the short version
how I came to be in Bozeman and how I started farming.
Then is your first experience on your wife’s farm?
My first experience was the first season on our farm
she worked for a big organic farm
when we got married she decided she wanted to be her own boss
started our farm in the first year of our marriage.
We were skeptical of how wise it was to start a business when you’re starting a marriage but my wife and I we work well together. We powered through the learning curve of her husband being her intern.
I did not know the difference between shell peas, snow peas, snap peas, and beans when we first started.
I grew up in a family that did not have a very intense food culture. We were very much average American food consumers. It was a very enlightening experience who grew up in Minnesota with a mom who was an adamant organic gardener. Her family practiced food preservation and year round garden food consumption
My family was a weekly grocery shopper
It was a very different experience for me
I was the ignorant
along for the ride
Now 9 years later, I am an extremely ardent and passionate organic farmer.
Practice homestead arts year round food consumption from our farm
enlightening experience and stuff gain a land connection
You have this degree in biology?
I went to graduate school for etymology but studying big ag not small organic
organic wheat storage and also worked in sugar beet production
Trying to develop organic pesticides in those industries. When I worked at the University we grew plants in a greenhouse but we were growing
Do you think about going back and becoming a teacher?
You know my wife and I have long term plans of taking our farming technique and transitioning it into education. W’ere practicing I guess its own little discipline
stick landscape and soil management
Native cover cropping
nutrient cycle management
that is very much not inline what contemporary organic industry is practicing.
You seem to have a knowledge base, a very scientific background, and you know what it’s like to teach and you’ve been a student of those practices and then you’ve gone out on your own and done this other project with your wife and you seem uniquely positioned to teach this well.
I’ve heard a lot of people talk about going to school and learning what is very different then best practices especially wanting to get your PhD at some point to stay in Montana
Tell us about something that grew well this year.
We’re just in the start of the growing season, just transitioning from spring into our cool season.
It could be from last season or something that grew well this spring like peas…
things that grow well for us on our farm
focus of our production system
we also grow lots of crops in our greenhouse
tomatoes and peppers
the tomatoes and peppers are the mean stay of our year round diet
vitamin c consumption for our family and something we put a lot of focus.
You grow those year round in the rocky mountains in Bozeman.
not getting food from out garden but we are eating it all year round.
grow in a short intense season here in the rocking mountains
drying, canning, fermenting and
freezing we are able to eat, my family consumes a year round diet of vegetables and meat off of our farm.
The property is 13 acres
we have a little over 2 acres for vegetables
the raining property
2 beef cows
service berry and choke cherry
about 6 acres of grass for grazing
3 acres of trees and brush and berry bushes
Awesome, that sounds lovely but 2 acres sounds like a lot of work for 2 people.
We used to have interns and volunteers and it was too complex of an issue
did some business analysis of effort and reward and decided to change our business model
we don’t live at our farm
live 12 miles away from our farm
commuting to and from the farm
unsustainable for us to have people work for us
we didn’t change our production scale
we changed our techniques
it is challenging
15,000 lbs of fresh produce per year
You sell your produce at the farmer’s market
85% of our production is sold across the table at farmer’s market
remaining 15% is for sale is to Red Tractor Pizza
sell a bunch of vegetables
meatball or steak pizza
gamut of vegetables…
I had a farm man pizza! It was so good.
What’s the biggest challenge to the two of you doing it by yourselves?
At this point in farming
my wife’s 11th season
the biggest challenge
financially and psychologically is marketing
To growing food the challenges of farming in Montana while difficult
it’s pretty predictable
your gonna have
- bad weather
that’s to be expected
when you harvest a bountiful amount of food and needs to be sold immediately and your beholden to the whim of the customer and the whim of the market
If you harvest 200 heads of lettuce and there are only 100 people buying lettuces
I know that seems to be the problem with us either like I was thinking I should take the swiss chard to the market but I didn’t go. You seem to be making it,you show up at the farmer’s market.
So I think what one of the ways we address that challenge of marketing
So over the last nine market seasons there have been lots and lots of opportunities to interact with customers.
When I first started farming and selling I didn’t have this aggressive eco warrior attitude about things.
most people’s that are shoppers are not militant leftists
it became an important part or our marketing key to make the
happy healthy client.
food is great and makes you happy to eat it and it’s so healthy for you
Stop with the message why it’s important to grow
break out of the corporate food system….
My take on things, I have many people who consider environmental and health problems deeply it’s very easy to become passionate and a zealot of what’s going on
as a business owner and as a marketing director for our little business
rapidly became obvious
marketing can’t be intertwined with the activist aspect of what we’re doing because it’s very easy to turn customers away from you by being overly passionate about the activist thing.
I run into that all the time… getting myself in trouble and running my mouth off, especially thinking everyone thinks like I do, and I think this is great for people to know
That’s the extent of our listening online
tells people where we are and what we grow
basic biographical facts about the farm
considered trying to take the modern approach
Facebook saw that as the exposure for a challenge in business when we considering it with the friends of planet natural organic gardening stores
He told me a tale of woe because people were trolling him
kinds of time to manage his Facebook
employees help him
sounded like a rabbit hole we didn’t want to go down as business owners since we were doing direct marketing
didn’t see the digital thing as an important step so we consciously chose not to embrace the digital media.
I think people will be excited to hear that too that don’t want to be digital and that there are other options out there
Is there something you would do different next year or want to try/new?
We’ve been doing varietal trials the whole time at our garden
source our seeds from fabulous
primarily taste evaluation sometimes we value our crop on productivity but since we are the primary consumers of our food flavor is of upmost concern to us
We trial probably 100 varieties of tomatoes
Every kind of pea and bean that’s available.
all kinds of carrots and beets and cabbage seeds
only have a couple new trials this year
we’re not really trying too many varieties.
One thing we are doing is attempting to grow sweet potatoes
You are I love sweet potatoes.
They are vining nicely right now
I just just acquired a fabulous digging fork industrial grade 2 handled digging fork
challenge of digging
we won’t know till we get close to the fall frost
cold cycles at the start of the spring
our spring crops
our early turnips and spinach
the things we fill the table with at the start of the market season
who get seeds?
most of our seeds are sourced from Baker Creek Heirloom
most of them
mainly the smaller
Tell me about something that didn’t work so well this season.
Which activity is your least favorite activity to do in the garden.
Even things that make us uncomfortable we enjoy
We use thistles to mine those minerals. There’s a deep layer of soil and minterals below your crops..
thistles very important for our nutrient cycle system
one of the things that’s unique about our farm
the soil is extremely deep
parts of our landscape.
when you get into mountain valleys in Montana there are areas that are very flat
every time a beaver makes a dam
mountain builds up the silt
when the water stops flowering the beaver moves
continues to block the water
those ponds and collections of silt
the top soil
somebody dug a pond
dug a 20foot deep hole
different way then soils that build
on different parts of the landscape
had really deep soil
the beavers collect the soil
far below for the crops to reach
the deep layer of soil and mineral below where your crop can reach
thistles to shoot down a gigantic tap root to grow down into the soil
One of the methods we use for nutrient management
- is to allow thistles to grow to maturity
- allow them to be a lush tall thistle
- wait to the end of the thistle’s lifecycle to cut it down.
Just yesterday harvesting thistles that were 3 feet tall and cut them flush at the soil level
So I harvested the tops.
our crops with the cut thistle
the thistle rapidly breaks down the stove
releasees it’s minerals at the top of the soil
essentially using thistles to pump nutrients from the bottom to the top of the soil layer
allows us to replenish the top soil
Sorry, it was kind of breaking up. You’re kind of using it as mulch? They’re not going to seed yet?
they haven’t bloomed
They will it’s part of our take on holistic cover crops
What is your favorite activity to do in the garden?
- eating grapes!
- binge on snap peas!
- I guess learn about nature and biology in a natural setting instead of a classroom or in a city.
Just the strangely satisfying aspect of taking something that is not producing food and turn it into a factory that produce glorious organic food
What is the best gardening advice you have ever received?
Don’t give up, don’t develop an exit plan, it’s a lifestyle choice!
Even if it’s challenging if you see it as a way of life it becomes bearable if you view it as just a business it’s extremely arduous business and there are easier paths to follow os just go for it!
I like that like follow your heart and if you can’t not do it put everything into it!
A favorite tool that you like to use? If you had to move and could only take one tool with you what would it be.
a really good pair of work gloves we buy lots of gloves!
I love gloves and buy a lot of gloves!
This year I found a new model of glove
I believe Wells Lamont
marketed as a waterproof gardening glove
- double dipped
- thistle sticker proof
we were talking about least favorite tasks one of my least favorite tasks is taking gloves off to get thistle out of my fingers
allowing you to work to your full potential
plant without slowing you down
whole glove is dipped and a second dip for the grip area
It’s a little bit hot and swampy but doesn’t get thistly!
first tool to take with me
should be called a power hoe
same job as a wheel hoe
only cultivates the top inch of soil
delay weeding till later in the cycle
help us keep our organic content up in the soil
A favorite recipe you like to cook from the garden?
we grow the garden is fantastic
In addition to being great farmers we work hard at being great cooks!
anything that has pepper with tomatoes
We raise beef cows
our beef is fantastic
Tinga beef is my favorite recipe where it’s slow cooked beef roast that gets pulled and pan fried with hot peppers and oil and tomatoes!
So you pan fry it after it’s been slow cooked in a crock pot or something?
The go to method for us,
- boil a roast in a pan
- in a pot on the stove top for about 2-3 hours pull apart tender
Then after it’s cooked we pull it apart, season it, pan season!
That’s interesting I pulled out our crock part the other day and made Mike a pork roast for his birthday. I wish I would have known, I was like alright it’s one o’clock I’m putting it on and it’s like it takes 8 hours so he didn’t get to eat it on his birthday?!
A favorite internet resource?
there’s been countless internet searches over the years the place we frequent the most are the seed catalog
so I guess it’s basically seed porn
when you read about the variety
different offering from the seed purveyors
When we started our farm we visited all the usual suspects standard books compendium of organic farming knowledge…
We were influenced by the leaders in our field
- Eliot Coleman
- Joel Saletin
- other big names.
one resource that was important
soil is alive
what’s the mean players in soil health
how to manage
how to manage fungus and worm life in our soil
the main pillar on which our farm stands is the soil health
once we understand how to feed the worms and our fungus it really changed how we managed our farm.
The Soul of Soil: A Soil-Building Guide for Master Gardeners and Farmers
the main theme of our podcast has definitely been soil health. I just saw this challenge on Facebook to bury your underwear and if you soil is healthy after a few months all that should be left is the elastic (have to be cotton underwear)
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?
One of the things that’s changed a bunch on our farm as it has evolved
as we’ve aged as the farm has matured
smarter not harder
business and in farming
when you are working you feel like if I could just work harder I could accomplish more. Sometimes you have to step back from the problem and find a different way to solve the problem instead of working harder. It’s been really key to survival of the business to find a way to not up your mental and physical input every year.
balance and comfort and be satisfied with what you do and not feel like your chasing something.
If somebody’s out there thinking about starting farm like a business it’s really important to find a mentor! Somebody that has solved the puzzles and riddles you’re going to encounter as a farm business. And really try to steal all of that knowledge from that person who had is it!
Even in my small community of farmers a lot of us try to reinvent the wheel
humans have been farming organically for all but 10s of 100s of years
sometimes is an effort that doesn’t need to happen! There are solutions that our ancestors have to a lot of our problems we face and now that we have the internet and google there is access to human knowledge a lot of the answers for our problems for farmers and gardeners are there and you just have to find is how to use that for your benefits!
I think the audience will be super inspired! No matter if they are just growing a tomato planet on our windowsill or your a market farmer like you are. We have the personal will to feed everyone on our planet now, the fact that you and your wife just the two of you doing what you are and there are some farmers up here, Jay Cummings and Mandy Gerth, with 3 small children and they are very similar and they started out doing their own work too! Makes me want to say go to your market and seeing how much it takes for my husband to grow just for us, I can’t imagine growing for 100 CSA baskets or even 10 baskets. Then when I talk to people like you I am so inspired.
Also, I rave about millennials because my guests and a lot of my listeners according to google analytics are millennials and I think people will like to hear that you are not just a young put they can start a little later in life.
I started farming when I was 35
never had a job that wasn’t as demanding as farming
how to transition your production into big enough for the scale of market farmers.
When we first started I thought things were gonna fall apart
difficult to do all of the work
smarter then harder. The challenges can be overcome by technique and different decision making tools then to work yourself to a nub!
There are other ways to solve the problem then to destroy your body.
For the young farmers that are considering the start that when you approach with the physical mindset of a 20 something or even 30-something it has a very limited timeline how you can work like that. But yet if you work in a system that is not as physically abusive you can do this type of work long into your sunset years…
My husband just turned 64, but definitely, Mandy and Jay own lower valley farm, their goal was to produce the same amount of food with less 20% work. I usually hate that phrase work smarter not harder, because what am I doing but get a mentor do what you can do.
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?
I think it’s not a charity or movement per say, it’s a discussion point that needs to happen globally. We in North America
when you look at the landscape we live in. We live in a landscape that is inundated with chemical input.
spray agriculture and weed management is dominated in
It’s not talked about
we unfortunately have to force the topic that the big chemical corporations are selling nasty chemicals that are being applied to our landscape and it’s not necisarry.
very well without chemical input
nature is resilient
mechanism for harvesting sun and turning it into plants
changed our discussion about the need for a clean functioning, dynamic diverse landscape it would revolutionize our
- ag system
- clean up our waterways
- improve the overall health of landscape and people
big long uncomfortable topics something we have to do it’s short sighted of us as a people as a planet to think the only way to extract food from the system is with chemcials.
rebel against the big corporations that are basically marketing people into applying herbicides and pesticides everywhere.
One of the summary points I wanted to make with you is that as gardeners and farmers that one of the words that we use that people have a negative reaction to is weeds
weeds are a false label. there are only plants. The plants we label as weeds are not our enemies not bad… its a tool that we need to use. We practice a holistic native cover crop cycling system.
every plant no matter how annoying it is can be beneficial to a food system or farm production.
It’s a tool that is there
how to use it as a benefit of end goal
don’t have a hatred of
What do you do about bindweed, we have a huge crop coming up in our orchard?
it’s a difficult one to manage
tap root that goes down into the soil
if you can cultivate it effectively you can use it as a nutrient pump to bring nutrients up to the top of the soil. Each challenge of a plant is its own little problem. So IDK, I don’t have a solution for bindweed, but we just continually cultivate and have accepted the fact that it’s present and have designed our system to work in harmony with the weeds then to see them as something that’s tragic or troubling.
Have to make lemonade when life gives us lemons.
Do u have an inspiration tip or quote to help motivate our listeners to reach into that dirt and start their own garden?
There are countless stories of people taking a tiny seed that is a genetic bundle of
get it wet the right way
takes all of that vast amount of solar energy that is showing down upon us
- tastes fantastic
- visually stunning
- super good for you to eat
- because fresh organic vegetables are critical to life
- living outside of an ecosystem
The joy of growing food is difficult to quantify in a statement. It’s something that is all encompassing and vital to my life now. The fact that I lived 35 years without having a connection to soil or plants in hindsight Idk how that happens… I fear that there are millions of Americans and billions of humans that have lost that connection of food production. This notion that you live in a landscape that sustains you. That’s something that I would want all humans to reconnect with.
No matter where you live
in the tropical parts of the world or the northern Rockies we live in.
right approach and techniques to harvest food for small
live even off of a small family garden plot to be able to preserve your food and always have the absolute best tasting most nutritious available to you even in the dark of the winter we can be eating peppers tomatoes turnips and squash and bounty of summer. But have to have right approach on how to preserve it.
I think people are gonna feel so good after this and that they can support their local farmers after this!
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