In early spring Eric and Audra Bergman’s living room was home to 25 baby Rhode Island Reds and Buff Orpingtons, breeds of chickens known for their dependable and productive egg laying abilities and cold hardiness. The chicks had arrived in the mail a few weeks earlier and were spending their young lives in the living room, a warm space full of sunlight, house plants, and books about growing vegetables and raising farm animals. But the time had come for the chicks to take the next step; they were moving to the greenhouse to live in the mobile chicken coop Eric and Audra had built for them. The coop could be moved up and down the rows of the greenhouse giving the chickens, as they grew, access to new ground, where they would eat bugs, dig in the soil, and add nutrients as they traveled. Eric and Audra gathered the chicks into one large plastic bin and carried them from the living room to the greenhouse. As Audra released the chicks into their new home they seemed excited, bounding around their new space, scratching in the dirt, and running back and forth under the red tinted light that provides them with extra warmth.

In 2010 Eric and Audra’s began their first season of farming at Groundworks Farm outside of Great Falls, Montana, where they lease 20 acres of land and grow vegetables on about 4 of those acres. Here the land softly undulates in shallow lines leading toward the Rocky Mountain Front to the west. Both Audra and Eric are from Montana, but they do not come from farming families. Although, as Eric pointed out, “None of us by and large…are that far removed from it [agriculture], but it seems like a long time. My dad grew up on a farm and my grandparents had a farm, and we would visit, but I certainly didn’t grow up on a farm. It doesn’t seem like it’s that close, but it’s just one generation out.” Yet, even given our cultural closeness to farming, friends and family members were still surprised when Eric and Audra told them they are starting a farm. “People ask what I’m doing and I say, ‘Well, we’re starting a farm.’ They look at you a little cross eyed, ‘Wow you’re crazy, who starts a farm?’”

Indeed, who starts a farm and why? Eric and Audra both attended the University of Montana where they studied biology and forestry respectively, though they met later while working for the Forest Service in Choteau. Eric had always dreamed of farming, and part of what he finds compelling about the occupation is the dynamic aspect of the work. Part of his desire to farm, though, stems from something deeper; “I’m motivated to try to do what I think is good work in the world,” he said. Audra found Eric’s passion for growing food contagious, and she takes joy in the work she now finds herself doing. “It’s just very simple,” she said. “You sort out your day, whether you’re picking rocks or weeding or fixing chicken feeders. I like that. I don’t like to wake up and do the same thing every day. I enjoy the animals and watching things grow, hovering over the pepper plants and watching their germination. Enjoying all the life we’re bringing here.”

For their first season Eric and Audra sold their vegetables at the Great Falls Farmers’ Market and through a CSA (community supported agriculture) group. For now selling vegetables is the primary focus of their business, but then there are also the chickens. The baby chicks that arrived in the spring began laying eggs midway through the summer. Eric and Audra also raised about 40 broiler chickens that they slaughtered themselves. Late in the summer they added to their laying flock by acquiring another group of chicks. In the future, chickens will hopefully play a bigger role in the farm business. Audra would like to experiment with crossbreeding heritage birds to develop a chicken that is well-suited to Montana’s climate. “The pursuit of the perfect chicken,” Eric said, half jokingly. “Yes, that will be a side note to Groundworks Farm,” Audra replied, “home of the perfect chicken,” she paused, perhaps thinking about the global ramifications of creating a perfect chicken, then added a local-food caveat, “for this climate.”