Sustainable Producer Spotlight Series ~ Past Submissions:
Three Hearts Farm
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Three Hearts Farm is a 7-acre farm located in the Gallatin Valley between Bozeman and Belgrade, Montana. The farm is owned by Dean Williamson, a former English and literature instructor at Bozeman High School and Montana State University.
The farm's name comes from the ancient belief that there are three hearts in every encounter: the hearts of the two involved individuals and the thing that brought them together. A shared passion, if you will. Dean uses this model to emulate the relationship between the farmer, the consumer, and the quality product he strives to produce.
Three Hearts Farm has been in operation for four years and is a diversified vegetable farm offering over 150 varieties of produce. They strive to maintain a diverse mix of crops including common greens like kale and lettuce varieties as well as plants that typically struggle in Montana's northern climate such as peppers and melons.
"The problem with growing vegetables in Montana's climate is that it is inconsistent," Dean says. "It's not the daytime temperatures that are the problem, but the low nighttime temperatures."In addition to direct marketing, Thomas also does speaking engagements at local schools and civic groups.
Although the farm is not certified by the USDA as organic, it strives to maintain stringent sustainable, organic practices. The farm's motto? "The only thing we put on our plants is water."
Although Three Hearts Farm has its own website as well as a Facebook page, they serve mainly as an informational resource rather than a direct-ordering tool.
The main focus of Three Hearts Farm is to provide food to wholesale markets such as restaurants, food co-ops, and healthcare facilities. This allows Dean to foster a "one-on-one" relationship with his consumers. "I prefer this type of relationship, so the buyer can understand the difficulties often encountered with farming."
For example, if he is unable to harvest the exact quantity of a particular vegetable to fill an order, the buyer in a personal relationship tends to be more understanding. On the other hand, if a purchaser did not request as much of a product as Dean had anticipated, he can adapt to meet the changing needs of his clients.
armers markets are a common option for selling produce from small-scale operations. However, Dean has found that it is not the most efficient way to market his high-quality product: although his local farmers market draws a large crowd, there are typically very few commercial food buyers in attendance.
The farm is located on the outskirts of a residential area, which Dean says is both an advantage and disadvantage. He thought the close proximity to roads would make his business more visible and work in his favor, but he has found that many neighbors are "oblivious" to where their food comes from. While people in the area are not disapproving of his farm, they have not taken advantage of its close proximity to obtain its high-quality produce and learn about the operation.
An advantage of the farm's location is that it is only about six or seven miles from most of its customers, which allows produce to be delivered at the peak of freshness while minimizing energy and labor usually associated with transporting goods.
Three Hearts Farm has three full-time and a few part-time employees. The farm is managed by Dylan Strike, a recent graduate of the MSU Sustainable Agriculture program. Dean's goal is to increase the number of local growers in the area, so he is implementing an "old school apprenticeship" approach. "There is a difference between just growing produce and managing an entire farm operation," he says, adding that both are skills he hopes to foster in his current intern and those that may join the farm in the future.
Dean does employ a few experienced volunteers on the farm, but he stresses the importance of a quality over quantity approach. He wants to be sure his employees are knowledgeable about production practices and that they understand the importance of the farm's role in the local community.
"Time is valuable," he says. "So it is important that volunteers must have ‘on-the-farm' experience." This ensures that farm operations are running smoothly and that Dean is able to provide a dependable, quality product to his customers on a regular basis. Having a limited number of volunteers on the farm ensures they will each learn valuable skills and receive high-quality instruction that will benefit them in the future.
When asked about his farming philosophy, Dean simply says, "I just love good food."
He strives to work as closely as possible with the natural biological system by respecting the "natural rhythm and speed of the land" as well as using minimal machine implements. Three Hearts Farm strives to continually improve the soil quality which will allow for production in the future.
"Food should be able to be grown on this piece of land forever."
The farm integrates livestock as part of its soil improvement plan.
"Natural systems have animals within them," Dean said. "They clean up plant residue and leave us little 'gifts' that improve the soil."
Three Hearts Farm is working to "close the loop" by making positive relationships with their customers through food. Dean has been involved with food co-ops for more than 12 years and has experience working directly with growers. Dean works passionately to "overhaul the current food system and create a truly sustainable food system." Ideally, he would like to see most food grown locally, within approximately 100 miles of where it will be consumed, and would like to see the improvement of infrastructure in order to accommodate that goal.
Dean refers to ATTRA's website regularly for information and uses the Internship Opportunities database to find people interested in a work experience on his farm. In October 2012, the National Center for Appropriate Technology, which developed and maintains ATTRA, hosted a "Healthy Farms, Healthy People" workshop in which Dean was a panelist. The workshop sought to promote healthier lifestyles by increasing the amount of Montana-grown foods served in healthcare facilities. The workshop members were then given a tour of Three Hearts Farm.
"ATTRA's ability to bring diverse audiences together is really cool!"
He believes bringing people together to share common ideas, experiences, and interests is important to improve the sustainable-agriculture community.
Although Dean is passionate about inspiring others to get involved in sustainable farming, he advises caution.
"Dip your toe in first! It's a lot of work! The excuses of 'not wanting to' and 'not feeling like doing it' won't get you far in the farming lifestyle".
"You can take a day off if you want too, but your plants won't"!
Learn more about Three Hearts Farm at www.threeheartsfarm.com/
The Sustainable Producer Spotlight is offered as a celebration of those who practice sustainable and organic agriculture and is not intended as an endorsement of the featured operations or products.
This page was last updated on: December 15, 2014