Transplanted farmers have ‘slow and steady’ growth plan
Land prices along Montana 82 south of Kalispell are less expensive than many other places in the Flathead Valley. That’s one reason Ted and Julia Wycall picked that area for their new business, Mountain Kind Organic Farm.
Another reason that spot was appealing is the upswing in the number of motorists using the cut-across road as the valley develops outward. While that increased traffic makes the 7-mile stretch of road more appealing to businesses converting open land to commercial space, the Wycalls intend to keep a large swath of land open for many years to come.
Their farm is over 100 acres, and this year they’ll be cultivating 10 to 15 acres with vegetables for the first time since they moved in a year and a half ago.
The Wycalls, who also live on the land with their 15-month-old daughter Yve and 5-year-old daughter Kadie, have been farming for over 10 years, mostly on Ted’s family farm in Maryland. Their greenhouse currently holds lots of starts and plenty of toys for their girls, who play in the space while their parents work.
The Maryland farm was experiencing enough success that they wanted to expand, but they found the red tape and hoops they’d need to jump through to grow the size of their operation in that state prohibitively expensive. They decided to seek out farming opportunities elsewhere.
That brought them to Montana, where Ted had gotten his bachelor’s degree before heading back East to till the family land. The two got engaged in Philipsburg.
The couple teamed up with Scott and Megan Lester at Whitefish Stage Organic Farm and helped get that operation off the ground last year. It’s now among the biggest farms in the valley.
“It’s a new climate and it’s new soil, but it’s still growing vegetables,” Ted said. “And we know how to do that.”
Ted said the partnership worked well because he and Julia got some experience farming in the new climate and the new soil, and they didn’t have to buy a lot of land before they did it. He said they came with plenty of equipment and the Lesters had plenty of land, so it worked out well.
The Wycalls’ goal was always to start their own farm, so when they found the plot in the Somers area with views of the Swan Range, it was perfect.
Eventually, they hope to create a semblance of their Maryland farm on their new farm. They won’t raise livestock this year, but in future years they hope to expand their offerings to include fresh, farm-raised meat along with their vegetables.
They also hope to cultivate a you-pick raspberry and strawberry section that will encourage patrons to spend more time on their property and eventually expand to cultivating closer to 25 acres. Julia described their growth plan as “slow and steady.”
Two barns sit near the highway on the south end of their property, and they will sell their products out of the one closer to Flathead Lake. The couple also spent time working on orchards in the valley before this, so they will use those contacts to get cherries and apples to sell out of the stand as well.
Ted said the network of farmers in the Flathead Valley has helped them settle in professionally and socially, and the East Coast transplants have enjoyed being here.
“Wherever we go, we find that farmers are good people,” he said.
The Wycalls plan on going to the farmers markets in Bigfork and Kalispell, and said it is likely they will frequent the ones in Columbia Falls and Whitefish as well.
The couple is also hoping to distinguish themselves by taking a unique approach to their community supported agriculture program.
Typically, these programs have customers who pay a relatively large sum of money up front and then receive a box of produce from the farm each week throughout the growing season. It helps support local farmers because it gives them money at the time of year when they incur the most expenses, and it also makes customers feel more invested in the venture.
“We’ve been CSA growers for quite a while,” Ted said. “Our main focus in everything we do is always going to be quality.”
The Wycalls are changing that formula to give customers more choice. Rather than a traditional, pre-arranged box dictated by the farmer, they are allowing customers to put money on a debit card-like device, and then spend money at the farm store or farmers market as they please throughout the season. Those with a card will also get 15 percent off their purchases.
They think it will be good for people who want more of one item than another, or those who are out of town a lot and might miss many of the mandatory weekly pick-ups traditional programs require. They are hoping the differences will help them attract people who might have had reservations with more traditional community-supported agriculture programs.
They offer the cards in increments of $200, and they are available until June 1. More information can be found on their website, www.mountainkindfarm.com.
Reporter Peregrine Frissell can be reached at (406) 758-4438 or firstname.lastname@example.org.