On a Wednesday afternoon in late summer, 2010, Mariann Van Den Elzen, owner of Field Day Farms, and her employees were busy preparing to distribute vegetables to customers. Washing carrots, weighing peas, bagging lettuce, bunching beets—the packing station was a flurry of activity. Each week members of the Field Day Farms CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) pick up a selection of the season’s bounty. That week the CSA customers got basil, peas, scallions, beets, carrots, peppers, lettuce, and other homegrown vegetables.

Like many small farmers Mariann does not rely solely on one outlet for the distribution of her goods. In addition to the CSA, she sells at a Bozeman Farmers’ Market, delivers to restaurants and caterers, and also has a website. On the Field Day Farms’ website, customers can see what’s available from the garden, order the quantities and combinations they desire, and then pick up the produce in town. But wait, there’s more. Mariann noticed something about the burgeoning local food movement in Bozeman, “I realized to help change the system a bit that we need it to be convenient. There were all these little spots in town where people can pick up their meat or pick up their cheese and milk… we just need a spot for growers where it can be central and people know about it.” On the website, which was launched this year, a customer can order meat, eggs, fruit, or value added products (like salsa or tea) from local producers and pick them up at one location. The website also provides recipe suggestions, field updates, and photographs that help further connect people with the food they eat.

Three years ago Mariann was working for other small farmers near Bozeman when the opportunity to work for herself landed in her lap. She recalled the events leading to farming on her own: “I had a friend say, ‘Hey, someone wants someone to grow vegetables on their property.’ I wasn’t really planning on it right away, but I thought this is an opportunity to see if this is what I really want to do. It’s relatively risk free because the water was here, the farm was here…so I thought maybe this would work. Of course, you talk to a couple other growers around here and they’re just like, ‘Oh, go for it.’” So she did. She started her first season on a one-acre parcel in Bozeman that had formerly been a horse pasture. At that point she mostly sold through the farmer’s market and through an email list. When the email list became too much to manage, she decided to create the website and form a CSA.

This summer Mariann expanded from her initial one acre plot in Bozeman by adding three acres at 13 Mile Lamb and Wool Company in Belgrade, which is owned by Becky Weed and Dave Tyler. Farming at two different locations has meant Mariann and her employees spend more time than they would like commuting between fields. Next year she plans to move all the production to 13 Mile. In preparation for the move, she put up a moveable hoop house and a storage and processing facility there. With 15 acres available at 13 Mile, the plan in the next few years is to scale up production to 10 acres and leave the remaining five to sheep grazing. But Mariann doesn’t like to be too rigid about her plans or her business. “I don’t feel like you can rely on one thing and mother nature teaches me that on a regular basis… I’ve shortened my vision a little bit because I’ve realized life changes, you change, people change, climate changes, stuff happens… Let’s live in the moment but have a clear enough vision to know where we’re going… If the local food movement keeps growing, what I envision now might not be big enough, it might not be what we need any more.”

Mariann sees her role in the community and her job as a farmer as very multifaceted. At once she is a grower of vegetables, an educator, a marketer, and an advocate for food system change. The role she feels is most important is that of educator. “Anything I can do to help promote our local food system is going to benefit not only myself but the other growers and the rest of the community… The actual growing part of it I actually feel is minor. I think we could all grow vegetables here if we really wanted; it might be hard but we could do it… The farming is really important of course and that’s what I really enjoy doing, but I also feel like the education is so much a bigger part of it.” In order to be an educator she talks with her customers about their food, she sends out recipes to help customers prepare seasonal produce, and she invites people to the farm to work or look around. “It changes their perspective,” she said. “They see that this is really tough work and a lot goes into it, but they keep coming back and they want to be a part of it. That’s pretty rewarding.”