Bonus Valentine’s Episode 277 with the amazing Mandy Gerth | Lower Valley Farm | LVFarm Academy

I know you are going to love her because she was our Crossfit gardener of the year in 2015! And you have taught me so much! I love all that you do and your delicious food and what you do! And she’s gonna share their new LVFarm Academy

Tell us a little about yourself.

I am Mandy Gerth! Farmer and co-owner of Lower Valley Farm in Kalispell, MT

my husband Jay and I are are going in our 7th year of full time farming. We run, I think we’re at about 

4 acres of production

all organic

primarily sell through a CSA

2 acres of that is using the intensive model that was kind of  pioneered by JM Fortier!

I know you had him on your show! 

community supported ag

  • winter squash
  • sweet corn
  • potatoes

separate rotation then intensive

I think that is new since I last talked to you.

We go really hard may through oct

  • we run a 20 week vegetable CSA
  • Kalispell Farmer’s Market
  • do a tiny sizable amount of wholesale
  • food aggregate
  • directly to small grocery store chains

overview of the farm!

We also have 3 school-age children 7,9,11 they have grown up on the farm very literally

co-owners

awesome crew

really helped make this farm go

under all of that is our community, we also couldn’t do this without our awesome customer base!

I could talk about the farm forever!

OK, I think, what we want to hear about what’s been going on and how does your journey go from gardeners to farmers.

Back to the beginning?

We started out thinking we would be running livestock

vegetable operation would be what would help us make money while we get a livestock operation going.

Before the beginning ~ what made us want to do this

our family had a life changing experience

eating nutrient dense

 

We volunteered on farms a lot! We loved being a part of our farm community in that way

in Indiana

We were doing a raw milk share

you can do in Indiana but not in Montana

super local food

  • grass fed beef
  • lamb
  • backyard chickens

But we were buying farm pastured eggs

slowly with each investment we made in lifestyle changes in our food

Our young children’s health changing dramatically

one of our children had some serious sensory issues

We got in really deep and we were spending almost all of our money on food

why don’t we have a farm?

it was like we don’t have a farm because we aren’t farmers because we

don’t know how to farm

if I could go back to myself

First of all I would give her a big hug

you have no idea what you are getting into!

We have a garden we can do this!

what I would go back and tell myself

having land is not having a farm

access to land that had been in Jay’s family for 3 generations

Parents had put it in a conservation easement

But we built the farm and all the infrastructure!

It was just a conventional hayfield

That’s what we want to hear is how did you create this farm, that’s nutrient dense and it melts in your mouth and the table is laden with just an incredible amount of food!

it’s been a steep learning curve

made that huge dive

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise

Joel Salitin’s book

You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Start & Succeed in a Farming Enterprise

you should farm

I was like yeah!

we can do this, if people like us don’t do this who does?

IDK maybe people with experience

in combination

The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier.


Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming

IDK if JM’s book was out yet? I’ll go back and look and see

UrbanFarmerThe Urban Farmer: Growing Food for Profit on Leased and Borrowed Land

in Curtis Stone, I’m not sure his book was out yet, we were watching lots of stuff on youtube then, watching tons of things

go for it

that first year we did everything by hand 1/4 acre

That’s what I feel like, when I look at Mike’s mini-farm it seems huge but then compared to what I saw at your place on the farm tour! I’m like whoa!

It’s a lot but what makes it doable is the 2nd year we invested in the BCS tractor and that was amazing!

What JM Fortier says to buy in the book

The Market Gardener Jean-Martin Fortier.


Market Gardener: A successful Grower’s Handbook for Small Scale Organic Farming

when I called to make that order he was like oh you must have read the book.

started out there with JM’s template

since then we’ve adapted it to what works here for us, we’re in a similar climate to him but I think our weather is a little more severe. We’re just North of Flathead of lake and we have some really intense wind so we have to adapt.

And with all that wind, you end up with lots of erosion you have to worry about? Right?

We don’t have too much erosion problems is we are always keeping the soil covered

The problem where we keep the soil covered is we have invested in a tremendous amount of sandbags. The first ones were not the ones. 

Now we get them from

Farmers Friend LLC lots of sandbags I’ve seen on other hand poof!

What are the sandbags for? Holding down plastic?

So our row cover we use

2xs as many sandbags

on the south as we do on the northside

we cover the sandbags for row cover

use the extensive use of Silage tarps that JM’s lays out in his book we also get from Farmers Friend LLC

We’re wind pros now!

Well that can be trouble also like your high tunnels. 

Jays got that really dialed in, he take’s care of taking care of our infrastucture need extra reinforcement.

We’ve 

it is amazing! we have a lot of snow here, right?!

our large tunnels they’re 35 feet wide by 100 feet long. Those stay up over the winter

We also have small caterpillar tunnels those come down

I think there are six

12 foot wide by 100 foot long

caterpillar tunnels

two full size that stay up over winter.

When we get heavy we snow, then we go out and bang the snow off the tunnels so they don’t collapse.

Good thinking, I think Mike was just so surprised last year. 

A family with small children

first we did 1/4 acre

then the second year went up to one acre which is a big jump able to do that because of the  BCS tractor

Then the third year we went up to 1 1/2 acres

1/2 an acre were non intensive crops

squash

potatoes we kept in a different rotation then the intensive crops

That year we bought a 4 wheel tractor

non-intensive crops

putting compost

all of our weeding is done by hand

We are just using the tractor for all of our intensive crops

4 wheel tractor is complete different production system for the little bit of storage crops we do for our CSA customers.

slowly adapted over the years

Our 4th year we brought in a full time employee

she’s wonderful

we had our one full time employee and now we have 5 wonderful part time people who work with us who work with us May-October.

It’s not just Jay and I working with us.

We have our full time person Mon-Friday and she’s here April – Oct

Then how we set up the systems on the farm

our one full time person she’s trained to do lots of things! She’s incredibly super intelligent. She can do everything! And she’s a quick learner!

before lunch

part time people trained to do a few things

monday and wednesday those are the days we have our part time field work people come in

tues and thurs

harvest days we have our packshed crew there. 

On Friday we go for early out for the crew.

pack for market

field, harvest, packshed

hopefully they can go at 1pm

leave us to do paper work office work done from 1-5pm.

don’t use any interns

no interns we only use paid employees

We have a young family so we are attempting to keep our life structured for your children. You know that a farm can swallow all your time

Learning how to create systems on the farm to make life manageable and the farm run smoothly so it’s a positive place to work!

What’s the difference between employees?

So we have one person who can do all of those jobs who is with us m-f full time

mon-wed field workers

We train how to

  • weed
  • silage tarps
  • transplant

Where do you find people to do that work? Do you have to do it those days because of the market setup?

We’ve been really fortunate to find great people

I’ve heard so many horror stories about hiring

put an ad out on

  • craigslist
  • social media
  • customer base

Usually get about 20 applications for every job that we post

we first do a phone interview 3 questions

have you ever worked in a woman run business?

questions for men, we have a primarily female crew here

everyone coming into our team listening to woman

somebody doing field work

people who have had experience working in the sun

heat

heatstroke

why they want to work on the farm?

call their references

Then we do a full day paid workday interview

WE usually know right away if they are a good fit for our crew. If they are we hire them at the end of the day

That’s the process

field workers which is really fun

pack crew which is also really fun!

It’s always in the shade

it is wet that can be uncomfortable

On a hot sunny Montana day that could be nice. 

we do!

may is a little uncomfortable

Oct is miserable and really cold!

That’s a downside pack shed work

fun place to be they’ve got the radio going

In the season May it’s the garden season summer coming. In Montana, people don’t understand you get off of work you get like an extra day after work, the days are so long to go to the lake after work!  It’s like crazy summer!

third position you ask about

harvesting crew

our full time employee Cari and i

primary harvesters

harvesting work directly with us

until we are confident they have learned how to do each task.

It seems like making a bundle of radishes no big deal but there’s a lot to it

we’re very particular how everything

a lot of training

120 crops

start people out harvesting side by side

When we’re comfortable

can you walk us through like what would you do for training someone like one crop?

lettuce mix

that’s what we start people on

usually Cari

does lettuce mix

harvesting

all of our beds are set up JM style

straddle the bed with our feet

We start by teaching people how to move like that

  • how to hinge at our hips so you are not hurting your body
  • food safety
  • knife nothing is allowed to touch the soil touch the ground
  • systems in place on how to move the tubs around
  • There’s the actually cutting so the lettuce get’s a nice regrowth
  • put it in the tub in a sanitary way

entry point for people

we sell tons of lettuce mix

It’s our number one seller

food take food safety

lettuce mix really really dialed in so it’s what we start with it’s also something we grow

continuously for 30 weeks

may 1st through Oct we’re harvesting 3 times a week

something we learn to do really well because we are harvesting consistently

I never even think about that food safety stuff but I think I need to think about it more. 

if you want to sell vegetable you need to but for your own home consumption

unless

someone who is high risk

  • chemo
  • autoimmune disorder
  • special needs of someone you’re feeding

Make sure your knives are always sterile and that your tubs can’t touch the soil

If you put a tub on the ground

Where do put the collecting basket?

They’re on the harvest cart which is sanitized

tubs nest inside of other tubs

tubs on the ground

food safety training

tubs

clean tub inside of it

any soil that gets on the ground,

one tub

clean tub

any soil on the ground

it’s not a big deal

soil is life

for some special needs customers could be an issue

We’re in the process of GAP certified

  • standardized
  • practices

Good Agriculture Practices

certified organic

certifier

systems are in place

keeping your knives clean

washes their hands after using the bathroom

clean water your working with

big deal for stuff to not be touching the ground

those are some of the basics

  • There’s a lot more too it! It’s not as big of a deal when you
  • get used to it
  • system for it

GAP standards

sanitize our harvest knives

do that as part of a normal part of the day

especially we specialize in baby greens

as a consumer

mom

I take that real seriously

I just have to give a shout out for regulations, I mean tomorrow again we’re on the verge of another shut down, it’s good to have regulations that say wash your hands after you go to the bathroom.

it’s important to know when it comes to food safety

tied into the farm bill

make crazy rules with the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)

initially the reaction was there’s gonna be no way to have small farms

guess who went to bat? The small organic farmers, people just like Jay and I got super involved, not us specifically, but people just like us, they have families and they are so busy but it’s 

food safety modernization act

something organic growers can do

activists

it’s annoying but it’s been made doable because of activist in the Small Organic Farm Market Movement.

I agree, what does Maragret Mead say, nothing a group of committed citizens can’t do? Do you not have animals anymore?

we don’t have any animals for sale

We keep the homestead livestock for the kids but after taking that food safety training they are completely separate

Can I ask you a question? One year Mike grew me all thsi broccoli, these squirrels, poopped on it and took bits out of it and I was like I should just boil it and eat it. 

I would definitely label that return to the sun food! 

I felt so bad? But I shouldn’t have eaten it?

I forget what the FSMA

number of feet

if you have wildlife in your crops, you have to measure out a certain radius around it you’re not allowed to sell

those are good rules especially on larger operations. If deer get in the field

But for the home gardener, you used good common sense don’t eat that. 

one thing if its chickens but another thing if it’s wild animals they could have any kind of food born disease

For commercial growers if it is chickens it’s not allowed to be in your crops which is a good rule. 

That’s why we keep our livestock completely separate

goes for a run

have to take that out of production

for like 180 days.

one loose piggy you know how they like to run around.

Cows

Your cows were so cute! It was almost like you could talk to them they’re were just so fun. There was like a mom and a baby. I’m not a farm girl, that might be the closest I got to a cow. Animals were not a part of my growing up maybe just a dog and a cat.

dairy cows are so beautiful and it’s really sad as vegetable growers

season that overlaps keeping for keeping animals is really intense for us so we have a friend that keeps dairy cows

when the kids are older I look forward to keeping a family cow again but it’s just too much for us! there’s so much work! 

big jersey with those eyes!

What’s next? I keep going back to the 1/4 acre to the 4 acres. The tractor?

 

The most we use it so much

and for anybody scale up

anything

Buy the BCS tractor and get what JM Fortier says to buy in the book and make changes from there that suit your

Eliot Coleman

he says 2 people can work 60 hours a week and work an acre

I have so much respect for eliot coleman

2 people working an acre intensively

DSCN6705.jpg

you need to have the BCS tractor

It was such a game changer!

If you have to take out a loan for it

less expensive then going to the chiropractor! It will save your back!

Do you want to explain what intensive means?

intensive word

originally used by Eliot Coleman in his wonderful book 

NewOrganicGrower

The New Organic Gardener by Eliot Coleman

it’s a system

different then vegetable row cropping

instead of cultivating with a 4 wheel tractor

Instead of the industry standard of

  • tilling a field
  • going out and translating
  • weeding
  • tilling it back in

It’s a system where you make permanent beds that are manageable on a human scale

12inch walking path

30 inch bed

eliot coleman made up that size which is the industry standard now for

We have very

  • nutrient dense soil
  • smaller space
  • so we are able to put a lot more back into that soil
  • keep the beds clean of weeds

so we don’t spend a whole lot of time weeding!

which is huge!

Intensive also means

as soon as it comes out of production, let’s say we harvested a second bed of lettuce mix, that bed will either be planted with a 

  • cover crop
  • succession crop

THAT same week!

never just sitting there!

turned over right away

soil is over covered

erosion

intensive beds never just sitting there

kind of merges over with the bio-intensive method which is the term Eliot Coleman gave to his method of growing

is this intensive?

is that intensive?

  • if you are using a permanent 30” bed system
  • minimal tillage
  • soil samples
  • giving back
  • getting better ever year

I’d say that was intensive.

So if you don’t have your animals anymore what do you do for your soil, manure etc?

that’s hard for sure

to get beds started

compost from Kalispell Creamery, if you are not local, we are so fortunate because there is a dairy here they do a pretty good job of handling some nice compost here.

It can be problematic if there is not enough nitrogen in that to keep the soil going long term

we grow cover crops

which is a crop that you grow not to harvest but just to reincorporate into the soil

that’s another way we build soil nutrients

What do you like in Kalispell?

we’ve got theres 2 different kinds here

ones your growing the soil keeping it covered but don’t give that nutrition back

really fast

buckwheat

it’s a good one! It can help if you need more organic matter! It grows really fast

covers the soil right away and has a lot of stuff there.

It has little leaves right

Yes, just don’t let it go to seed you’ll have buckwheat forever!

I hope I didn’t do that last fall then you’ll

with a blue berry perennial crop

it’s more

winter kill isn’t a perennial 

if you have blueberries it could grow and be a mess

more of a problem for things we grow like 

lettuce mix

That we don’t want anything coming up

except what we plant because of the intensive model

Well, you see Mike might be like you are never touching the garden again, wehere I want to put the blueberries is like a foot away from his other bed where he plants lettuce and peas etc.

Now permanent beds mean you never plant in your walkways?

Yes, our feet are the compaction

we never plant in the walkway

just for walking

one thing we do now that’s different

JM BCS tractor

don’t make raised beds with the BCS tractor anymore

Thats great because it’s one less step

means that the paths aren’t as clear which is one of the reasons we have a highly trained crew

We don’t want anyone walking on your permanent beds!

The pressure from your feet can create a bit of soil compaction! if you’re trained you can tell

Visitors just walk on it it’s like don’t walk on the beds! 

So then if you are not making the beds with the BCS what are you doing?

Just the compaction from walking in the path 2 inches lower so you can tell where they are out?

How come you don’t have to turn the soil with the tractor anymore?

there’s an attachment for  BCS tractor the called a flail mower

when a crop is done for example of the lettuce mix

  • We’ll mow it
  • chops up all the crop debris really small
  • power harrow

instead of going in a rotary motion like a wheel the way that a tiller would

It has a back and forth motion

so it just laterally moves the soil down

you can adjust it depending how much debris is there

small as pass as possible

so we are only working the top 2 inches of the soil

so that harrowing does sort of fluff it

exactly 30 inches

After a bed’s been harrowed you can really tell where the bed is

Jay and I are really good at walking straight with that tool so you can see where the bed top that perfect 30″ top is.

So am I picturing this right, it’s kind of like mowing the lawn but turning it in at the same time and your mowing lettuce not grass?

you almost

have to switch out

mower

switch the mower off

things that have to be mowed for the week

Then switch the implement

and switch to the harrow

after it’s been mowed

the harrow comes and it has a roller the perfect bed top

The first time I used this thing I literally cried, I was like I can’t believe this!

Before that we use to use a bed roller that Johnny’s Selected Seed makes that rolls the top of the bed

The harrow is amazing!

It’s such an amazing tool! It makes the perfect bed top.

You asked about amendments, part of food safety for us, we only put that on at the end of the year because it’s an animal manure and it would need 200 days before we can plant into that as commercial growers 

We would only do that at the end of the season, so between planting we use a certified organic source from poultry waste. It’s not ideal we have to buy it from out of state. I do have a lead on a local source

certified organic amendments

bump of nitrogen

as were flipping the beds

mow put down the amendments then harrow which puts the amendments into the soil too.

Now 200 days, what if that manure was sitting on your property? Would it still have to be 200 days cause that’s after you mix it into the soil or after its been laid? Like if it sat for a year before you put on the bed?

It needs x amount of days?

if it was on your own farm and you want to eat it as a finished amendment there’s a ton of rules I’m not sure on you would have to make sure that 

  • compost up to temp
  • document it had gone through enough days
  • turned enough times
  • it was hot enough so that pathogens are gone

We respect the use of any animal compost being treated as manure

There are different rules for manure for finished compost

Since we are buying compost that has not been process through a professional food safety we treat it as manure

Lots of things about food safety here!

Let’s talk about the LVFarm Academy!

We are so excited about this! 

Each year we make a major infrastructure upgrade

making a better

major adjustment

 LVFarm Vegetable Academy

It’s free with CSA membership

it’s open to the larger community for $7/month or $62 a year

Online school that we have created this winter

basically last 6 years of CSA newsletters

  • teaching

  • expanded it

  • organized it and

  • easily accessible in one place

hosted through teachable

go to our website

some are set up on preview

$7/month

  • definitely people in our CSA
  • interested in seasonal eating
  • shop at the market every week

I for the last 6 years now I spend between market and farmstead about 6 hours a week talking to people about how to prepare vegetables

what’s in season when and why

I’ve got a lot of practice doing that

organized the things I say over and over into this  LVFarm Vegetable Academy

5 different parts of it

A-Z guide

every crop we grow

  • how to store
  • prep
  • What to do if you have a little bit extra
  • crop availability

For instance with garlic scapes it’s available usual

What time of year?

Didn’t you and Jay meet in Art School?

If you don’t know Mandy she just has this amazing eye when you go to her farm stand you see these amazing photos of their family and she’s just put it together in a really well laid out plan and also, I’m pretty sure you’re the one who told me what nutrient dense food was and about Sally Fallon and the Weston A. Price foundation. I’ve learned so much from you and what you put together it’s just lovely I saw the inside look. It reads really well you write about the family and caring for your body and our environment through food.

been really intentional

meeting people where they’re at

  • people’s who doctors said you need to eat five vegetable way
  • eat down the rabbit hole
  • where I was at 20 years ago
  • barely knew how to make pasta

to where we are now making sauerkraut and seeking out raw milk

There’s something for everybody

People who are new to seasonal eating to those at the 400 level

something you’re going to learn

wherever your at on your seasonal journey for it to not be overwhelming to make tiny changes, one change at a time

comfortable where they’re at

I like how much time I spend in the kitchen

They might say oh, I’ve never made collard wraps

collard

out of a cooking rut

one new skill

oh my gosh

  • I wanted to know how to do all of these things
  • I didn’t know how to do any of thing

You don’t have to live in Montana to go to the Farmer’s Market or the CSA where you’re like what do I do with bok choy or how do I cook this? Oh, yeah I was gonna ask you about the crops did you say you grow 120 crops?

 

  • I just got my seed order finished yesterday

I ask Many if I could put these pictures of her moving her beds around comparing it to Tetris.

crop rotation

how we rotate crops through

different crops have different nutrient needs

pest

depths and pull out different nutrients soil balanced that way

serious! 

120 crops

I want to be rotating them so that nothing is in the same space within 3 years of each other! 

It’s a big puzzle! I get started on that puzzle next week!

crop variety have been interested

Indiana to nw montana

a couple of varieties I’m so happy

6 new kinds of tomato

just looking for that classic tomato flavor in a way that will grow here!

I’ve grown all the weird heirloom Russian and German varieties! Every year ther’es a couple of new types.

I love heirloom tomatoes and I live in an area where its always cold at night! Right?

Yes, I’m so glad to hear it from you? I’m just like give me a cherry the others are just so depressing!

all

staple tomatoes

every year now

really like from high mowing seeds

glacier salad tomato

2 inch diameter tomatoe

these are the kind I would have had ripe on mother’s day in Indiana grown as a precursor to the real tomatoes.

glacier has been such a good performer

tomato texture

grow that as a main crop

Glacier

favorite heriloom

mountain princess

also though high mowing seeds

small beefsteak

trellising tomatoes

just stake

stake these up

they’re nice dependable 72 day

another good source for northern tomatoes

heriloom

Adaptive seed

little seed house that’s based in Oregon

they’ve got all of these lesser known strains of open pollinated and heirloom for the Pacific NW. They’re not necessarily for Montana. I don’t do anything that’s 100 days except for brussell sprouts

got a lot of unknown varieties

That’s another thing you sell I love are your little lovely packets of edible flowers.

So excited to be here and talk about the farm! And introduce people to the LVFarm Vegetable Academy

free preview of the  Academy

check out what it’s about

5 emails

free ebook with free recipes

walks you

lowervalleyfarm.com

up pops the home page

little form we want to share a preview of the LVFarm Vegetable Academy and you put in your name and email and it signs you up to get some emails from me. signs

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