Jacob and Courtney Cowgill, MT:

Prairie Heritage Farm is an organic, diversified farm near Conrad, Montana, on the short grass prairie where the Rocky Mountains meet the plains. The farm is owned and operated by us – Jacob and Courtney Cowgill.  

We both grew up here, in Central Montana, Jacob south of Great Falls and Courtney on a farm about 60 miles north. We both left Central Montana as young adults for school and careers but came back as soon as we possibly could.

We wanted to find a way to make a life in Central Montana but we also wanted to give back to the communities that raised us and to be part of sustaining and reinvigorating the culture and economy of rural Montana. So, we started a farm.

In 2009, through a mutual friend, we found a farmer who was willing to lease us a piece of ground near Conrad. We packed up our cozy urban house and moved home. Two years later, we’ve more than doubled our customer base, expanded all three of our Community Supported Agriculture programs and are moving toward buying a piece, if not all, of the farm, helped along by some of the beginning farmer loan programs offered by the Farm Services Agency.

Prairie Heritage Farm is focused on three main enterprises:

Organic Vegetables, Organic Heritage Pasture-Raised Turkeys, Organic Heritage and Ancient Grains

We sell all three products directly to customers, by individual orders and at the area farmers markets.

But, a large part of our farm is devoted to our Community Supported Agriculture programs. CSA customers buy in to the farm, essentially becoming “shareholders.” In return they share in the bounty — and risk — of the farm.

In our vegetable CSA program, shareholders pay up front in the spring and in turn, get a weekly bag of produce for 16-18 weeks.

With our Thanksgiving CSA, shareholders pay at the beginning of the season and a few days before Thanksgiving, get their “share” which includes a turkey, onions, potatoes, winter squash, herbs and other fixings for the yearly feast.

And with our  Grain and Seed CSA, shareholders get nearly 100 pounds of grains and seeds not readily available anywhere else, like specialty lentils, barley, a variety of hertiage spring wheat and ancient grains, including Emmer and Khorasan. The past two years we have been trialing amaranth, quinoa,  dry beans, and teff to be added to shares one day.

Our farm is in a lot of ways the kind of farm that existed in this region 50-100 years ago: diversified, small-scale and locally based. Our vision is to be a model for how to revive elements of that old kind of agriculture alongside the kind of agriculture that has sustained our communities in the last several decades.

We’ve been helped by so many people along the way. In Montana, AERO, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, plugged us into all the right networks, markets and resources. Nationally, we’re inspired and supported by the Greenhorns movement, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Slow Food USA and the Center for Rural Affairs. Locally, our banker and FSA agent have been both so very patient and helpful, even though what we’re doing and growing is darn near unheard of around here. We’ve also been aided by the NRCS’s EQIP high tunnel pilot program. And, big support has come from a handful of friends of the farm who gave us small, but significant loans to get started and in general, advise us and cheer us on. Then, there’s all our loyal CSA members who put their faith in us every spring.

It seems we find support just about everywhere we turn. Truly, we feel a community – far and wide –  supporting agriculture.

We believe that family farms nourish not only the people who work them, but the people they feed and communities in which they live. We believe organic agriculture, diversification and a robust local food system are good for the health of our farm, our customers, our community, ourselves and our environment.

The experience thus far has been full of excitement, experimentation, the occasional bout of “are we really doing this?” but mostly, a deep appreciation for the opportunity to be back home, on the land, feeding our neighbors and friends.

*Photo courtesy of Prairie Heritage Farm

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