By Erika Berglund
On the edge of Missoula County, a quick bike ride away, lies a rural neighborhood dotted with local farms and replete with fresh produce, flowers, and tasty food.
Last Sunday, 35 local food lovers hopped on their bikes and joined CFAC for the first Blue Mountain Bike to Barns farm tour. Just outside of Missoula City limits, attendees wound their way around the maze of local farms in the Target Range and Orchard Homes neighborhoods. The group rode a leisurely ten or so miles, making stops at a total of six farms where they visited with local farmers and sampled their delicious products. The tour was topped off with an indulgent local food meal highlighting local products hosted by The Trough restaurant.
Most riders were Missoula residents eager to discover the farms in their backyard while a couple folks traveled from as far as Whitefish and Great Falls, seeking inspiration for farms of their own. Farmers greeted this lively bunch with stories of their farms, a tour of their operation, and tasty treats.
Decked out in neon, CFAC executive director, Bonnie, led the pack from farm to farm.
A quick ride from the tour’s start and finish point, The Trough, riders made their first stop at Green Bench Orchard, an organic apple and raspberry farm with a U-pick operation. Local farmer, Fred Stewart, spoke to the challenges of becoming organic certified and the importance of preserving agricultural land while encouraging the riders to sample from his raspberry bushes.
Next, the tour made their way to Tower Gardens while Bonnie noted several farms along the way, and made quick stops at the Grogan Family farm (farmers market vendors) and Orchard Homes Icelandics (specializing in sheep). At Tower Gardens, Kari Brittain welcomed the group and shared zucchini bread fresh out of the oven while explaining how the farm is used as a “hands in the soil” classroom, offering seminars and community garden space in addition to CSA’s and a farmstand. It also produces a lot of the vegetables used at local restaurant, Tia’s Big Sky.
A stone’s throw away from Tower Gardens, riders then hopped on over to Clark Fork Organics, where interns talked about the farm’s production and offered riders a chance to cool off with minty cucumber water and a carrot snack. Operated by Kim Murchison and Josh Slotnick, this family farm produces quite the diverse bounty of produce and cut flowers. Their products can be found at Missoula farmers markets, the Good Food Store, and various restaurants.
Just a quarter mile down the road, the group was then greeted by the members of the Turner family: Jon, Erin, and their three sons, Ethan, Logan and Gus. Turner Farms produces eggs and a wide variety of vegetables, which they sell through their CSA and charming farm store. The Turners also specialize in pumpkins, engaging local elementary school students in the growing process and hosting an annual pumpkin festival in the fall.
A couple miles over to Spurgin Road and the riders found themselves at Red Hen Farm & Orchard where Greg Peters treated them to berry smoothies. Greg and his wife Julie (a CFAC board member) specialize in growing berries and various fruits on their family farm. Passersby can wander through the orchard and pick fruit or stop by the farmstand. Red Hen also offers a seasonal CSA and on-farm classes.
For the final stop of the tour, riders made their way to Harts Garden and Nursery, where George and Marcia enchanted them with their beautiful array of flowers. Harts grows a diverse variety of native and exotic flowers and specializes in peonies of every shade. The farm’s cut flowers and bouquets can be found at the Good Food Store and other local shops, or at their farm, most days.
Looping back to the start point, attendees continued their celebration of local food with a delectable BBQ catered by The Trough. Beneath the shade of canopies and among a beautiful assortment of flowers from Harts Garden, riders feasted on tenderloin from Oxbow Cattle Company, roasted root vegetables from Turner Farms, greens from Clark Fork Organics with raspberries from Red Hen Farm and Orchard, and an apple betty with apples from Tayers Lawn and Garden.
With such fabulous food and so many wonderful farms within biking distance, we couldn’t think of a better way to spend our Sunday. Pedal on over to discover these local delights for yourself and support your local farmers. We also hope to see you next year at Bike to Barns!