Badger Rock Farm is set atop a hill outside Roundup, Montana. The farm looks out to open rolling land dotted with fir trees and the first indications of town. Erin Janoso and her husband, Jim, own a house in town, and a few years ago they purchased the 13.5-acre plot outside of town, of which under an acre is in small-scale vegetable production. In 2010 Erin began her second season at the new property, which came with a few surprises. The previous owner, who still lives on an adjoining lot, left many things behind including old trailers, cars, tools, machinery, and other unused objects; he is supposed to remove these pieces of old equipment but has procrastinated. Since they remain a part of her landscape Erin made the most of their presence by putting them to use: the baby chickens live in an old bread truck until they are old enough to be moved outside, old pieces of machinery have been put together to make a fence, and a truck cab serves as a dry place to store row cover. Sometimes it is important to make do with what you have, and this is Erin’s situation, “You buy something that’s not perfect and then you have to learn about it and deal with the problems that come with it. It’s a trial-by-fire situation.” The other surprise—undisclosed when they bought the land—was much of the top soil had been stripped in order to sell the gravel underneath to a road building crew. To grow vegetables on the property, Erin has begun the long process of returning fertility to much damaged soil.

Erin grew up near Roanoke, Virginia. She studied biology in college because she was interested in living systems, an interest that eventually inspired her to start a farm. About eight years ago, she and Jim moved to Roundup, and Erin spent a few years gardening at their home until they bought the current property in order to expand. In 2008, in preparation for growing her gardening business, Erin spent a few summer months with Purple Frog Farm in Whitefish, Montana, where she learned about growing and harvesting salad greens, and while there she also had the chance to visit other nearby farms. “It was interesting,” she said of the experience, “because everyone has the same goals—healthier soils, watering crops, harvesting—so you got to see how different people accomplish the same things.” She has taken the knowledge she gained in Whitefish and applied it to her business; salad greens are one of the main crops she sells to restaurants and customers in Roundup and also at the Billings Farmers’ Market. Much of the local and sustainable food movement momentum develops around urban centers, and with a population of around 2,000, Roundup may not seem like a place that would take an interest in local vegetables. However, Erin has found support from many local people and businesses, and in the future she hopes to expand her Roundup market.

Erin mostly runs the farm business herself. She has help from Jim, especially with construction projects, but he is often busy with his own work. This season she had her first employee, a 15-year-old named Reed, who is the son of some friends in Bozeman. Reed is interested in the outdoors and gardening and decided to spend part of his summer in Roundup working for Erin. Reed has proved to be an invaluable help and assists Erin with tasks such as harvesting, weeding and planting. Taking care of the chickens though, is Reed’s favorite job. Each day he feeds and waters them, and also brings them weedy treats pulled from the garden, which are a favorite of the chickens. They go crazy for the weeds, and pick through them looking for the bugs that are inevitably thrown in too.

In the long term Erin and Jim envision the farm as a community minded, educational resource center that would have space for science and gardening classes for kids and adults. But in the immediate future she has some more pressing issues to deal with like figuring out some soil and pest issues, developing infrastructure such as installing a water pump and building a deer fence, and growing her local customer base. In her second season at this property, she has found tackling all these challenges trying at times. But Erin has found help and support from a number of organizations and groups in the area such as the extension service, the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS), and most notably the Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO), an organization that works with small farmers and related issues in Montana. Erin is on the board of AERO and through her work there has been able to connect with other growers to share ideas and experiences around growing vegetables and raising animals in Montana. Most importantly, such networks of people have provided her with the encouragement and support she needs to tackle the challenges, and appreciate the rewards of starting a new farm business.