Sweeps Winner

Black Bear Soups & Produce - MT

Black Bear Soups & Produce started as a farm-to-table business that supports myself and other Montana farmers in selling their farm seconds. Since 2015, I have worked part-time as a farmer, developing a market for fresh produce and soups directly to customers at farmer’s markets and special events. My products are excellent and the pandemic has increased the demand for locally sourced foods. Disrupted supply chains caused many consumers to wonder where their food comes from, so new consumer habits formed around sourcing locally that were supported by their desire for consistent food security.

Through the years, I have farmed on five leased sites around western Montana while looking for land to purchase and develop long-term infrastructure. When I started my business, I qualified for USDA Rural Housing loans, and began to search with a realtor for an appropriate farmsite. My experience was that the properties that would meet the cost limits of this low-income supportive loan and also have a small farm space, had homes that didn’t qualify because of their varying states of disrepair. While I searched for land, I continued to work full-time and run my farm business part-time on several small acreages around Missoula. I have experienced a similar story to many of my peers: Living and working as a professional in the nonprofit and small business sectors where I live means I have been outpaced by our real estate market.

While struggling to find a site appropriate for long term development for my farm-to-table business, I nearly left it behind. Two years ago, the opportunity of my lifetime presented itself: the first farm I ever worked on is becoming the first community land trust farm in Montana. My economic capital may not be competitive, but my social capital in the western Montana community is what brought me into the project. I have worked alongside the retiring farmers and a former professor for two years to transition the site to a permanent community farm. The site will also host a store and cafe on-site appropriate for Black Bear Soups.

A community land trust farm will provide long term stability and pathways for me to build equity. The site will be owned by a nonprofit and I will have a 75-year lease. I will own improvements to the site, so I can make the larger infrastructure investments it needs. Things like a barn, a wash and pack shed, and before long an on-farm store and cafe. The challenges in my story are an example of what would-be farmers are facing. This is an opportunity not only for me. The work and care we put into this site will be available, permanently affordable, for future generations. I hope this model will be a harbinger for how we can make farmland affordable in the increasingly more elite real estate market.
Black Bear Soups & Produce