It’s Easy Being Cheesy!–Or–It’s March, Let’s Make Cheese!

Well, Al and I had an epic weekend last week.  We saw family and friends (check out some photos by M. Helm here!), played with our baby chicks and kittens (the cute name for baby rabbits remember) and most importantly for the sake of this blog, learned how to make homemade cheese!! 

Everyone should do this.  EVERYONE.  Unless you’re lactose intolerant or live under a bridge with no access to a heating element, but even then, it’s so easy that you could probably just light a bonfire in a garbage can and make your own, fresh cottage cheese.  If you’re my friend in real life, consider yourself tagged in this post already, because I will expect a report of how awesome your cheese was by next weekend.

Here’s what you do to make the best cottage cheese you’ll ever eat:

  1. Buy the freshest whole milk possible.  Try to find a local source for quality milk, if you can’t, use what you can find as long as it’s not ultra pasteurized.  If you live in western MT, whole milk from the Kalispell Kreamery works great.  I said WHOLE milk, we’re making cheese, so indulge a little (also the cheese making process is basically separating the milk fat from the water, so whole milk yields more cheese).
  2. Prepare the following 4 ingredients: 1) 1 gallon of pasteurized milk, 2) 3/4 cup white vinegar, 3) 1 & 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 4) 1/2 cup half & half or heavy cream.
  3. Make sure you have the following 6 items on hand: 1) A large stainless steel pot (without a copper bottom) 2) Cheesecloth 3) A large, stainless steel slotted spoon 4) A colander 5) A waterproof digital thermometer (an analog thermometer will work, but you will have to calibrate it every time).  6) A small bowl (large enough for 2 cups of cottage cheese)
  4. Begin!
  • Pour your gallon of milk into a pot on medium heat.
  • Heat to 120 degrees and remove from heat.
  • Pour in vinegar and stir slowly for a few minutes.
  • Cover it and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • Next, pour your mixture into the colander, lined with cheese cloth.
  • Let it drain freely for a few minutes.
  • Then, pick up the corners of the cheese cloth, twist, and hold them together as you gently run the wrapped cottage cheese under cool water for three minutes while you gently squeeze it and move it to cool it down.
  • Shut off the water and squeeze it to get it dry.
  • Move it from the cheese cloth into to a small bowl, add salt, and stir to break up the cottage cheese.
  • Stir in half & half or heavy cream right before you serve.
  • Enjoy within 5 days and impress your friends!!

PRO TIPS (for the detail-oriented):

  • Before you pour your milk, dust off the outside of the jug, so you don’t get any dust in your cheese.
  • When you rinse your cottage cheese while it’s wrapped, it will still drain white–that’s okay!!  We’re not rinsing off a paintbrush, we’re making cheese.
  • You can use the extra whey (white run-off) on your plants!
  • If you don’t want to gather all the supplies on your own (like cheese salt, rennet, and citric acid for the fancy cheeses that we’ll show you soon like mozzarella), you can order a cheese making kit here for $24.99.
Cheese Making Supplies
Cheese Making Supplies

 

Cottage Cheese

Disclaimer: These hairy man arms are not mine, but Al’s.

Cottage Cheese
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Hey apricot tree, you look hungry for whey…

It’s February! Let’s Make Sauerkraut!

Little did you know that the delicious, fermented product sauerkraut has über-amounts of nutritional goodness!  You were probably too distracted by that giant 3.81 lb polish sausage from Costco to realize it’s relish actually has supreme health benefits.

Here’s the breakdown:

  • ImageSauerkraut is a natural probiotic!  That means it has healthy bacteria that will aid your digestion.
  • Sauerkraut is high in vitamins C, B, and K.
  • Sauerkraut is used to treat stomach ulcers; so if you have kids, a mortgage, student loan debt, or are trying to start your own business, you’ll probably want to keep some on hand.
  • Random Fact: During WWI, we nicknamed sauerkraut “Liberty
    Cabbage” because we were pissed at the Germans.

Here’s what you do:

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  1. Buy cabbage.  We bought red and white.
  2. Chop up the cabbage in long, thin pieces.  I used 1.5 cabbages.
  3. Add salt.  I used 4 tablespoons of table salt.
  4. Use your hands to massage the salt into the cabbage until it begins to change texture and become limp.
  5. Add any other veggies that you might want to ferment with your sauerkraut.  We added white onions and carrots.
  6. Pack the veggies into a jar.  Place cheesecloth over the top of the jar so that it can breath and release gases, but still stays secure.
  7. Check on your sauerkraut multiple times the first 24 hours to make sure there is enough juice and its staying underneath the brine.  If necessary, weigh down your sauerkraut with another dish to keep it underneath the brine.
  8. Check on your sauerkraut and when it’s sauer enough, eat a bunch and get rid of that nagging ulcer!  It can take anywhere between 72 hours to a few weeks–just keep checking!

What a Difference a Day Makes

I have been home in Montana for just under 48 hours and my life has transitioned nicely from one of strict schedules and expectations to a girl’s dream–a life of cuddly, warm animals, fresh, homemade comfort food, and a sexy man to share it all with.

Erin - AIT graduation

I graduated from my Advanced Individual Training (AIT) in construction on February 14 as an Honor Grad.  So, that felt pretty good–but it felt better to be sitting on my first of many flights back to Montana.  Luckily, (or as destiny would have it) I sat by a fantastic woman on my flight between Atlanta and Salt Lake City.  Her name was Diane, she and her husband had retired to eastern Montana, and from what she told me, they carried between them five decades of experience working in the field of therapeutic recreation.  Since we are seeking the right individuals for our Board of Directors and our long-term goal is to serve veterans who may be having trouble finding work, reintegrating back into their communities, or being treated for physical or mental health conditions–an expert in the field therapeutic recreation could be quite valuable to our long-term work.  As with everything, we’ll pursue that relationship and see where it takes us.

Free-range omelet

When I woke up on Saturday morning, I saw my first chick hatch (Valentine–who is doing fantastic, by the way).  Then, I ate a fluffy free-range Oglethorpe / Bearded Lady omelet.  It felt a little bit awkward cracking eggs for my omelet whilst listening to the cheep of baby chicks trying to break free from their egg prisons, but I shrugged off my distaste for the situation and focused on how great it was to eat such a great, healthy meal provided to me by the same chicks that I had held just a year earlier.

Next, Al’s mom and I bought all of the supplies for a brooding box for our chicks.  This is too easy.  You need: pine shavings, a heat lamp, and a food and water source.  To offset the $50 we spent at Murdoch’s getting our brooding box together, we’ll be hitting you up to vote for us in the Murdoch’s Love Your Pet photo contest (winners get a $50 gift card) when our photos come online, so be prepared for that!

Watership-Down-1978

I also bonded with our two new litters of kits–if you don’t have baby rabbits in your life right now, in the middle of this cold, blustery winter, you are missing something in your life.  Rabbits = Love.  I used to think owning a rabbit would be some terrifying experience out of the creepy cartoon (that IS NOT for children) Watership Down.  Thanks mom, for exposing me to this little beauty on the left. It is from the movie, based on the book by the same name by Richard Adams marketed as, “The timeless classic novel of exile, courage, and survival,” or as we call it in my house, “Why Erin was irrationally paralyzed by fear at the sight of cute, cuddly rabbits.”

Luckily, as every normal person knows, rabbits are not indeed the blood-thirsty, angry, demonic spawn of Satan.  There is no easy transition here, so to wrap this champagne induced post up, having baby animals reminds you that spring (and your childhood issues) are always lingering around the corner.

P.S. Mom, I no longer have nightmares.  Love you!  Erin

Valentine

Meet our new chick Valentine!  I got home from my military training at 1am Friday, February 14 and Valentine was born at 10:54 am the next morning, right on schedule.  So, I slept in (hallelujah!), then woke up to meet two batches of kits (baby rabbits) and then saw my first chick hatch!

We’ll keep you up-to-date with all the new babies around Primrose Station.  It’s 8:54 pm and we just helped another chick out of his/her shell.  More tomorrow…

Our first chick hatching from our incubator!
Valentine getting out of his/her shell.

Gaining momentum in the right direction.

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I’m constantly referring back to our new year’s goals to make sure we’re on track.  Every time I check and find I’ve made progress I just want to go faster and try harder; having concrete goals and then seeing us working towards them just adds fuel to my fire!

Besides the written goals specifically addressing projects at Primrose, I’ve also been tracking some business development goals.  The education I’ve gotten from the Oklahoma State University Veteran’s Entrepreneurship Program has really shortened the timeline on a lot of my goals for developing Primrose into a successful business venture.

First off I’d like to thank OSU, the faculty, the students, the alumni, and the donors that made that program possible.  I’ve been with 22 other entrepreneurs all week brainstorming with and learning from some of the most successful and effective people I’ve ever met.  At the end of the program we left and went our separate ways, but we’ll be collaborating online and with mentors this year to keeping pushing us towards our goals.  That being said, in the interest of accountability and telling the story, I decided today that I should write it all down.

Marketing and Branding.

So far we’ve secured our URL and begun a blog (obviously) to track the story of building our homestead and business.  The blog is providing something else too that’s important to businesses these days: search engine optimization.  If you’re going to have a business with an online presence (and I can’t think of one that you wouldn’t want to have one), the most reliable way to make sure that someone looking for you, finds you and not someone else, is producing content for your site and updating it often.  Search engine optimization companies charge you money to do little tweaks and tricks to rocket you to the top of a google search for specific words, but because search engines are constantly changing the way they rank sites, the best way to make sure you stay on top is to provide original content and update often.

Additionally we started collaborating on logo design, I’ll throw up our latest at the bottom of the page when we’re finished!  I could write a book about my feelings on logo design and graphic design in general, but in the interest of brevity I’ll just say this: less is more and keep it simple (think about printing).

Goals: develop our brand, keep consistent with updating the blog, solicit local subject matter experts to provide some homestead and entrepreneurship targeted content, refine our business and marketing plan.

outside-no windows-Primrose MT substation (3)

Primrose Station.

One big part of our project (arguably the biggest part) out here is building Primrose into a farm-to-table B&B.  That’s going to require a LOT of funding and work.  We solicited a historian to prepare our national historic register application, and it will be done soon.  We’re excited to preserve this historic piece of the old Milwaukee Line and develop it in a way that we can share it with visitors to Montana and members of our local community!  I can’t wait to read the application when it’s finished, I’m sure it will have a lot of cool facts about the property.

Goals: get on the national historic register, have an architect draw up new plans to reflect our vision for the building, get cost estimates, secure funding to start work.

Homesteading.

Last year we grew vegetables in raised beds, planted trees, planted bushes, planted Merlot grapes, etc.  We started raising chickens and rabbits (holy cow are we ever going to meet our rabbit production goals!).  Now we need to take our experience from last year and build on it.  Luckily we have some friends in town that are very knowledgeable about food production and they’re going to be helping us out  I went to a farm business class at the local extension office, and we’ll be attending the rest of the series together when Erin returns.  Erin applied to NRCS to get us help setting up a greenhouse on the property this year.  I applied to the Veterans to Farmers coalition and last Friday they chose an advisor for our endeavor, so we’re very excited to work with them to accelerate our production goals at Primrose.  When all is said and done we want to be producing enough that we can feed all the B&B guests and have enough left over for monthly events and a roadside stand or farmer’s market sales.

Goals: get a greenhouse, plan out our aquaponics system, purchase neighboring land to increase our production, sell enough farm products to be considered an agricultural property to qualify for certain grants and loans.

In addition we’ve got some bigger goals, like forming a board, getting involved in the community, planning monthly events out at Primrose, etc.  Make sure to check back next week when our first incubator-load of chicks should be hatching!  Thank you to everyone that has supported our efforts so far, from helping out at the building to commenting on the blog!

The Gift Economy: Recession Proof and Responsible

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“All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated…As therefore the bell that rings to a sermon, calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come: so this bell calls us all: but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness….No man is an island, entire of itself…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” -John Donne (1572-1631)

No man is an island indeed.  Although I’ve striven in life to learn as much as I can, I’ll never scratch the surface of the vastness of human knowledge.  Although I’m sure I could merely survive on my own, at least for a while, I don’t know how fulfilling it would be (or what my quality of life would be like).  Modern society requires interaction (if you don’t believe me check your W-2), but how and why we interact is ours to decide.  My recent work to get “back to the land” has had an interesting side-effect: I’m also getting back to humanity.

The concept of a gift economy is not new, and it’s actually debated frequently by people who have useless college degrees.  The concept is simple: humans do things for one another out of a feeling of obligation and responsibility to each-other (unless they are sociopathic) and if you expand the number of people who you have helped, you’ll expand your circle that will feel obligated to help you.  The more cynical among us might stick on that point, but let’s not.  I don’t help people to make them feel obligated to me, I help them because I already feel obligated to them because we are both human.  The wonderful side-effect is that when I am down, or life takes a bad turn, or I need help with a project in an area I have no expertise, someone will come to my aid.

It’s the old concept of the barn-raising.  Nobody can do that work alone, so everyone within a few miles comes to help raise your barn.  You serve food, knock out a heavy chore in a day, and all of a sudden you have a grand, useful structure on your property.  Having that big beautiful barn is going to increase your prosperity, and you can now use it to help raise others’ barns.  This type of communal work increases your sphere, meeting people with special skills that you may really need some day.  What does it cost in today’s dollars to build a big beautiful barn, in time and money?  That is an important question, and the reason we should work hard to help others, barter work and goods when we can, and grow our communities together.

Dollars are important for a market-based economy: they allow us to exchange unequal goods and services and allow us to save our effort in a jar for a later day to be exchanged.  This is very convenient, especially for those that print dollars, for they then can then print “effort” to exchange for your goods or services, without having to actually work.  What happens is that the amount of effort put into the economy has stayed the same, but the dollars have increased, and they are always equal.  If the total economy contained $40 and four hours of effort, you could say that hour you worked was worth ten dollars.  When someone prints $40 more and throws it in the pot, without four more hours of work, it causes the value of your effort to be halved (while giving them $40 worth of your effort for nothing).  This is the sad part of a credit based economy, we will all always be playing catch-up because every hour we work is consistently devalued by “stimulating” monetary policy, and it is leading us into further economic depression.

All that aside, a way we can insulate ourselves from this phenomena is by trading our work and goods with each other, those things hold constant value.  We can also bank our excess now in the gift economy, in case we need help later.  If the economy became so bad that a dollar was worth absolute zero, I’d require a little help from my friends, but I would also be ready to give it!  Another way to protect yourself from reckless fiscal policies is to buy a productive piece of land to live on.  If everything goes south, hopefully you can at least grow your own food.

Another way that working together can benefit us is the economy of scale.  Big companies don’t buy or do things one-at-a-time, and that’s how they do things cheaper.  Getting together with your circle to do group buys, or work together on projects instead of individually, can benefit everyone.  Imagine the cost per ounce of every person buying their own canning equipment, heating their own water, and spending their own hours canning jam.  Now imagine one person owning the equipment, everyone dividing up the work, and heating water once.  It just makes sense for us to find more and better ways to work together!  This could apply for any number of homesteading activities, like gardening, making soap, canning, collecting seeds, etc.

In this vein I’m excited to announce that a few friends from town will be helping out with the projects at Primrose Station this year.  I’m relatively inexperienced in the growing area so our friends Dawn and Mike are really going to be valuable sources of information, plus they can help us grow food!  In exchange for providing land and water and food, we’ll gain the assistance of some experts and help with labor.  More importantly, we can run this homestead as a community, and not an island, because the value of our human relationships is paramount to our success and happiness.  Plus, isn’t it more fun working on a project with your friends instead of trying to do everything alone?

A Poor ($80,000!) Decision

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I wonder why more people aren’t opening their own businesses today.  I think that it’s because our population is so segmented that people don’t have the dreams, vision, or drive to do it.  I have to admit, I spent my twenties “going with the flow” without a clear plan for my future.  I went from decent job to decent job until ten years had passed and I realized I was still sitting at a desk without any new, concrete plans for my future.

It is necessary to dream your life into reality.  Dreams are the most powerful and exciting part of my days now.

It’s only when you have confidence in yourself and you remove every mental barrier to your potential future that you can open yourself up to dream big.  I believe in the success of Primrose Station so deeply that it makes my heart warm and gives me the energy to not be dissuaded by the obstacles and challenges that will come our way.

Granted, I am not in Montana right now, doing the day-to-day chores like Al is, but I have my own challenges here in Mississippi.

When Al and I got married, we moved to California so he could attend a military school and I decided that I might as well use that time to further my education.  “…Might as well…” being the significant phrase in that sentence.  I’m pretty sure that my decision was based on a combination of (a) feeling competitive with my friends who were getting graduate degrees (b) feeling like I was lacking something without one, because we are in a tough job market these days, and (c) feeling a desire to travel internationally (and The Monterey Institute of International Studies does have the word international in it).

The irony is that I got the least marketable degree possible for my life.  Overall, I could count the decision to go to grad school (with it’s $80,000 price tag) as an EPIC FAIL.

It should be pretty obvious that a graduate degree in International Policy with a focus on Nonproliferation and Terrorism for someone living in a small town in Montana doesn’t make sense.

Now, Al and I discuss this sometimes and justify it in the following ways: (a) you learned a lot and bettered yourself (b) you met some really good people (c) you can get a PhD now and work at the university…but to be 100% honest with you, I’ve always thought that paying for an education is bullshit.  In our society, it may be essential bullshit, but it still smells like a sewage treatment plant.

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE going to school, but we all know that degrees are pieces of paper that cannot and should not define us.

And, on top of that, $80,000 is a lot of money to work with. $80,000 could have gotten us well on our way to having a functional building.  We probably could have had our radiant floor heating, windows, plumbing, and electricity by now.  And, Alton would not have had a wife whining about living like a hobo for nine months.

So, to compensate for my moronic decision to spend $80,000 that I didn’t have on a degree that I didn’t need, I enlisted in the Army National Guard.  Now, $50,000 of my student loan debt will be paid off over the next eight years by someone besides me!!  Thank you Army, hooah!  I moved from one challenge to a completely different challenge and now I’m in Mississippi learning how to become a 12W, Construction and Mortar Specialist–remember this is “the wife” writing this, so I went so far out of my comfort zone it was like I was jumping off of a cliff deciding to commit eight years of my life to military service, then learning a job that is in a male dominated field.  Yet, the decision to go into military service to learn construction fits so perfectly into my life that everything makes sense again.

I can’t wait to write some posts about laying concrete, building walls, and framing in buildings.  Al is the prepper in the family, but now that I am learning a trade and not just pushing papers, we can work together to better our future and make an awesome working homestead.  In this instance, a few wrongs did make a right, and that is the life of an entrepreneur–to confidently move forward without knowing what the future holds, because as we evolve and adapt, our plans will evolve and adapt until we become more sure about what we want and who we are.  Take a chance on yourself, it will lead you somewhere interesting, even if its somewhere you didn’t expect!

And stay tuned for new chicken coops and rabbit hutches when I get home!

Let’s talk about chicks, man.

Big Fat Mike

Today I started expanding our chicken family to meet one of our 2014 goals out here at Primrose Station. It’s important to us to incubate, hatch, and grow our own chickens for a few reasons. First of all we love the chickens we have, a good mix of different types leaves our egg baskets looking like easter all year. Second, we want this project to be sustainable (and somewhat self-sustaining), I feel that saving some of your eggs to sprout new chickens from your “root-stock” is just like saving seeds from your favorite heirloom tomato. It doesn’t hurt that if half of my first batch of eggs hatch, it will be cheaper than buying that many chicks, and now I own the equipment to hatch subsequent sets of chicks at no cost.

Let’s take a look at what it takes to “roll your own”:

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First off you’ll need an incubator. Farm Innovators offers a few options, I chose the 4200 model because it regulates the temp better with an element and fan, plus it includes an automatic egg turner. Egg turning is something you have to remember to do every day up until three days before hatching, this auto-turner will save me from having to remember to turn them, but more importantly will keep me from having to open the incubator as often and causing temperature fluctuations. Mark the sides with x’s and o’s to keep consistency and see which ones you’ve turned already that day, you can even put x’s and o’s on your calendar to see every day what side is supposed to be showing.

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Let your eggs get to room temperature, if you stored them in a cool place, so that the incubator can get them up to the proper temperature faster.

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You’ll need to bring your incubator up to your ideal temp and let it run while you make small adjustments to the temperature knob, then let it run for a few hours to make sure it’s set correctly. For chicken eggs you’re shooting for 99-100 degrees, and the analog thermometer built into the incubator lid isn’t calibrated or accurate enough to rely on. Get a probe thermometer that shows tenths of a degree, there are plenty of little holes in the lid to probe all over inside. I picked up this little number at Target (and used cash so my identity didn’t get stolen).

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Before adding the eggs you need to put water into the troughs molded into the bottom of the incubator, this will help keep the humidity up for your eggs. Use warm water so once you get the eggs in the incubator will get to operating temperature faster. Once you put the eggs in the auto-turner it will be impossible to see the white troughs in the white base under the white egg turner, so I put some food coloring in with the water to make the troughs more visible (and patriotic!).

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Set the egg-turner into place being mindful to line the corded corner up with the notch. This egg turner can hold 42 regular eggs, and you can order different sized trays to accommodate different types of eggs.

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Put your eggs into place!

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At this point it will take a while for the incubator to get back up to temperature, just remember to keep checking and make sure it doesn’t need more adjusting. Add water when you need to, monitor temps, and in 21 days you should have chicks hatching! In 18 days take the egg-turner out and let the eggs rest on the screen inside so the chicks can settle into place and get ready to bust out of their shell!

Pretty simple, although I did leave out some things that are covered in-depth in the instructions that come with the incubator. Three weeks from now I’ll post a follow-up with some fresh pics and the success rate for our first hatching. Fellow chicken farmers, please share incubating pro-tips in the “comments” section below!

Montana, “The Last Best Place”

If you’re from Montana, like Al and I are, you will know that we Montanans take tenacious pride in our state. We are home to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone National Park, the Rocky Mountains, and a stable economy during an unstable time. We like to hike, fish, camp, and drink beer. We work hard and we play hard.

Celebrities come here to live on ranches, or write albums and books. Bikers drive through to get to Sturgis with a stop by the Testy Fest, which is such a wild party that it was featured in a Chuck Palahnuik book. We have fifteen ski resorts, twenty-one microbreweries, and just over a million people in the whole state.

We often tolerate people from other states, and welcome them with open arms only if they are willing to adapt to our way of life and our values—if you can put in a hard day’s work, drink a beer with us, and don’t want to take anything away from this beautiful state that we love, we can become lifelong friends. But if you mess with the charm, beauty, and magnificence of Montana—we’ll have words. 

When Al and I discuss our dream for Primrose Station, it is with this kind of protective mentality in mind. We are protective of the open space near our property, so we want to purchase more land to maintain its beauty. We are protective of our health and welfare, so we want to reconnect with the land and animals around us so that we are eating food that we have had direct contact with. And we are protective of the legacy that we leave our children and future generations, so we want everything we do to be thoughtful and long lasting. In addition, we in no way want to build this dream alone.

Places that steal your heart include more than natural beauty; they include good people. My experience working and living in Missoula has been so positive that we’re staying there even though there aren’t a lot of high paying jobs and our “international airport” only flies to Canada. 

My expectation for the next year, is that we will connect with people already working in cooperatives, coalitions, and networks across the state that value local meat, produce, and products. These folks have already been investing their time and energy into getting healthy food distributed all across our valley, and we are excited to be another spoke on the wheel of this food distribution network.

The closest thing right now to a “food hub” in our area is a (cough!) gas station! Our competition will be Monster energy drinks and M&Ms and that’s okay…we just hope people will also stop by our roadside stand to have some fresh berries and buy a dozen free-range eggs—laid for them by our Bearded Ladies and Ms. Oglethorpe.

I feel like we’ve just opened ourselves up to an extended family of people that we haven’t even met yet. So, we’ll be here, working hard/patiently waiting for you to come pay us a visit. Here’s to good health, new friends, and Montana!