There is a goat named Newman on a farm in Moiese, Montana. His horns curve back toward his shoulder blades, like twin crescent moons used for challenging other male goats or sometimes the border collie that taunts him from the other side of his fence. His long hair gives the impression that he is accustomed to the often cold, always variable climate of Montana. His two wide set, yellow eyes have a glint that is knowing and curious yet surprisingly nonchalant. Newman is Connor’s favorite goat at Ploughshare Farm. Connor, who is four, and his younger sister Clara, along with their parents, Nicole Jarvis and Cale Nittinger, call Ploughshare Farm home.

Nicole and Cale began farming at Ploughshare Farm in Moiese in 2007. Their interest in agriculture began while they were in college where they both spent time working on the PEAS (Program in Ecological Agriculture and Society) Farm, a small educational farm in Missoula run by Garden City Harvest and the University of Montana. There they learned the basics of cultivating plants from seed to harvest. This is also where they met each other. She said, “He was in love with farming, and I was in love with farming, and we fell in love with each other.” After interning and working on several farms Nicole and Cale decided to begin farming on their own. They initially wanted to be near Bozeman where Cale grew up and where his parents still live, but good farmland near Bozeman is often prohibitively expensive due to development pressure. Instead they began looking in western Montana.

The piece of property they ended up buying—with help from Cale’s parents who will eventually build a house on the land—sits in the Flathead River Valley just west of the Bison Range on the Flathead Indian Reservation. The land here is open, expansive and somewhat flat until it rises into foothills and then into the mountains shrinking to the horizon. This area is home to many farms—commodity grain producers, ranchers, and a handful of small vegetable farmers. Ploughshare Farm consists of 18 acres, three of which are in vegetable production, while much of the rest is in alfalfa. Nicole and Cale market their vegetables at the Polson Farmers’ Market and through the Western Montana Growers Cooperative.

Though they have farming experience on other properties and are in their fourth year on this land, there is still a lot to learn. Making a living from growing vegetables can be stressful. Farming can have a long learning curve, as Nicole put it, “You see older farmers who after 20 years kind of have their system down and the stress level can go down a bit. But when you’re just starting out, you’re so inefficient and there’s so much to figure out. Where to go, what to do, how to do it, where to market everything, how to market, what to grow. There are so many variables to figure out those first few years.” Nicole has found keeping notes to be essential; a small farm is a small business, and it is necessary to remember the lessons learned from year to year.

Ploughshare Farm practices sustainable growing methods. Among other things this means no petrochemical insecticides, herbicides, fungicides, or any other –cide. It also involves working to build soil fertility by adding nutrients from compost, manure, cover cropping and crop rotation, and managing the farm in a holistic manner. In their neighborhood not everyone agrees on these methods; across the street is a fertilizer company and their neighbors spray chemicals at times. But the diversity is what makes their community unique and enjoyable. Nicole said, “There are a lot of old school farmers, a lot of rednecks, and then you have the hippies, but we all get together and we all hang out. We all float the river together. It’s just a form of community… we get into our discussions and have our disagreements but…We have a lot of fun together.”

In addition to vegetables, Nicole and Cale have chickens for eggs and goats for milk, which they mostly use to feed their family, which brings us back to Newman. For Cale and Nicole farming isn’t about the bottom line. They make a profit according to their tax forms, but it isn’t much. “We just knew, if we were going to have kids, we didn’t want to do anything else. We wanted to be able to be home with them and have them grow up in a country setting, not in the city,” Nicole said. Connor’s daily chores include helping feed and water Newman, milking the other goats, and watering seedlings. Spending time together as a family rises to the top of Nicole’s list of what makes farming most rewarding, that and the connections she has developed with her customers. “This, I love this,” she said, as Connor banged his toys together and sang while Clara cried. “I don’t know what day it is today. All I know is I’m home with my kids, and as much as they’re driving me crazy right now, I’d rather be here than anywhere.”