Local small Farmers grow beyond county market

By: 
Eleanor Guerrero
CCN Senior Reporter
Organic Hydrponic lettece
Courtesy Photo Ben Sechler of Elevated Harvest transplants his organic hydroponic lettuce.

Farmers and ranchers in the area who are sustainable in nature have utilized local markets such as the Farmer’s Market and the Rocky Fork Food Hub to sell their products. But for those that have the blessing of too much product they need to grow to other venues.
Two Carbon County vendors, the rather new Elevated Harvest of Luther, and the second generation Nash Farms of Bridger, are thriving and are seeking markets beyond the boundaries of the county. This week they will feature their products at a special local food, local chefs, local farmers and ranchers dining event held by the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub in Billings.
Brittany Moreland and her husband Benjamin Sechler run Elevated Harvest off Lower Luther Road. “We opened Dec. 1, 2016,” she said proudly. Her family has a ranch in Nye.
Elevated Harvest produces lettuce, leafy greens such as Kale and Swiss Chard and culinary herbs. Although these items are often found in local gardens their operation is unusual-the name is literal-they grow everything hydroponically.
Hydroponics is growing plants without soil usually suspended in the air and fed a nutritious water medium. According to simplyhydro.com, plants are grown in a perfectly balanced nutrient solution delivered to the roots in a highly soluable form. This allows the plant to exert less energy and put more energy into growth. According to simplyhydro.com, “If you grow two genetically identical plants using soil for one and hydroponics for another you immediately see the difference this factor makes. Faster, better growth and much greater yields are just some of the many reasons…” it is used.
Moreland has been a master gardener for 10 years. The couple were intrigued when they visited a hydroponic operation in Bozeman during a tour with Senator Jon Tester.
“I’ve wanted to be a farmer for a really long time. We spent several weekends helping out.” They learned the process and opened their own operation. They produce about 700 heads of lettuce each week. The reason they chose Luther was a compromise with family in Nye. “We love being in Red Lodge.” As a gardener, she didn’t want the winds of Nye.
The couple has two daughters, Alexandra, 2, and Adelaide, 4. She jokes that their greens go “from lettuce to bacon” because the children’s scraps are fed to their pigs, their “sustainable garbage disposal.” They raise the hogs and some beef for themselves. They have joined the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub but will continue to market locally to the Farmer’s Market and Rocky Fork Food Hub.
Nash Farms is located in Bridger. Nestled in the rolling hills of central Montana, Carol and Jerry Nash have been been raising heritage breed livestock for over 20 years. They have a small, diversified, farm and ranch operation dedicated to animal welfare and healthy soils that produces quality sustainable products. 
The Nashes have been joined by their son, Tom Tschida, who is managing the operation and involved as well in the special event this week showcasing their food at a five course dinner.
“I returned home from California to farm and ranch and be near my family,” he said recently. They feature less sheep and more Heritage Dexter Cattle. “It’s an Irish breed, good for small acreages, 10-20 acres, real hearty. They can handle the weather-the cold and the heat, and are smaller, almost half size! They are dual purpose for milk and beef, althought we just use them for beef. They finish better on grass.”
The Nash Farm is sustainable with no antibiotics, hormones, pesticides or herbicides used in its operations.   “We grow our own hay, and the cattle and sheep are completely grass fed and grass finished.”
They became involved with the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub and Tschida is one of about 5 ranchers on the steering committee. He hopes it will lead to some of the ranchers joining forces to combine their efforts. He imagines, “One person can represent 12 ranchers and offer their products to local restaurants, schools, hospitals…we could rent storage space together, maybe have a storefront in the future.” All these things are being contemplated by the Yellowstone Valley Food Hub. “It is a different concept than Rocky Fork which offers food online.” The scale of their operation is still being determined. “We are in the middle of this discussion-whether to jump into large scale production or stay with small markets.”
With the newest Yellowstone event he hopes to connect with local chefs and make new food connections. “I’m excited to see how it goes. The restaurants and chefs are a big part of the outlet. We think it will benefit everybody.” No matter the direction of the Hub, he feels it will be a positive opportunity for Carbon County sustainable ranches.
Regardless, he said, “We will always be available locally. We will always sell at the Red Lodge Farmers Market. The idea is to be local, Montana, sustainable and to be a local source. The idea is to keep food in the county.”
Both ranches will be represented as well as Chef Eric Trager of Old Piney Dell, at the "Yellowstone Valley Small Plates Big Tastes” at DanWalt Garnens on Sunday, Oct. 8 at 5:30 p.m. See: www.yvfoodhub.org or call 248-1154.

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