Visiting Mtn. Cloud Farm in February
I am going to let the photos tell the story for the most part, but what I will say is that Mountain Cloud Farm grows and sells farm produce throughout the year. That’s right, during and including our Idaho winters.
My tour guide was none other than Breigh Peterson, who kindly took me in and out of all three greenhouses, pointed out the orchard areas and the berry stand, as well as the seedling shed, and into the animal arena.
Upon entering the first greenhouse, I was stunned and amazed to see SO MUCH FOOD… and it is just as Breigh’s partner Darren Cloud says of himself, “I feel like a rich man” to have all those vegetables growing. When we pick up our winter produce, the carrots are freshly pulled, the cilantro is sturdy and flavorsome, and the greens are rich and satisfying. Walking into that first large double-hooped structure, my knees literally buckled and I almost cried, so fabulous was the sight.
The first greenhouse features a large propane heater that blows and circulates air from one end of the tunnel to the other… you might say “oh sure, it’s heated”… well, it was not “warm” like a tropical plant greenhouse, it was just a little above freezing on a single digit, bright sunny day. So, yes, it’s heated, but the farm is feeding many dozens of greens-hungry people in the deepest, coldest part of winter!
The expense on this scale seems worth it, I don’t think they have any trouble with sales. I suppose you could have a wood-burning stove in the center of the greenhouse, but that is wrought with it’s own set of issues, not the least of which is introducing insects from the wood. I think these folks have a really good thing going, and I am so very grateful for them growing MY food.
One important part of Mountain Cloud Farm are the animals. There is a splendid menagerie of “typical” farm animals, but the breeds are not so “typical”. In addition to vegetables and some fruits, the Farm also produces meat from cows and lambs, along with eggs when available. (Last summer, when it was so hot and we were inundated with wildfire smoke for weeks on end, chickens and ducks were not too happy with the situation and refused to lay on account of the hazardous air… and who could blame them?) … The Dexter cattle are the smallest breed that are not “miniaturized”, and they are friendly, even the bull! And the Dorper sheep, as well as the heritage breed American Blackbelly, have hair, not wool, so they do not have to be sheared and their hair does not pick up every twig, burr, or sappy glob of tree resin that may be out there. Chickens and ducks hang out together, and there are also goats for milking and simply enjoying. Some years they grow pigs for meat as well. All the animals produce manure for fertilizing the soil, an important factor in the whole scheme of things. And the animals eat some of the produce too, I’ll bet.
The animals have plenty of room to roam, both outdoors (even with so much snow) and also under the cover of the barn area, where it is open and airy, but with plenty of cozy places to get out of the wind.
I have to tell you, visiting Mountain Cloud Farm this winter was like going to Shangri La, I could just about see waterfalls and rainbows as I was taken from one greenhouse tunnel to another, there were even johnny-jump-ups blooming in one shed!
One of the things that Breigh told me about their greenhouses was their shape. Not just the tunnel, which is good for holding up to the wind and weather, but also their mostly square shape. She said that they are easier to keep warmer than a long rectangular shape, because the “center” is more in the middle and there is no one longer side than another. It makes a lot of sense to me, especially if you did have, for instance, wood heat in the center like I have seen in many other greenhouses. You’ll notice in the photo with the cilantro, the swiss chard is along the side wall, and is looking pretty wilted from the cold – it is more tender than other crops… but it will come back in the spring for some nice soup-making greens although I’m sure it will be removed for more summery crops. The steel-framed tunnels are themselves moveable; they are on a track that slides them forward and backward for sheltering certain crops like tomatoes and peppers and squash, so they get a head start and a nice finish.
If I could say one other thing about Mountain Cloud Farm, and their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture), it’s like buying into a food club that is very local, and as fresh as can be. There is a yearly fee for X-amount of weeks of fresh produce, and it works out to about $25 per week, some weeks leaner such as in April, and some weeks so plentiful that you must freeze some of those roasted red peppers you glommed onto and enjoy them in January!
Thank you, Darren & Breigh, for making yourselves available to show me around, and taking the time to explain the this-n-that of your farm. There are many other photos I could share, such as the seed-planting devices and other implements, but they are still swirling in my memory with not a lot of data to give you. When I consider my own small greenhouse compared to the full working farm happening just across the creek from me, I realize I am small time, but that’s okay… I always did have a hard time asking $10 for a head of broccoli, that’s how much work it seems you put into it… and I’m happy to stick to selling herb and veggie plants… but the large scale as is done on a real farm is NO COMPARISON, and that’s okay too. In fact, it’s great!
Addendum: I would also like to point out that, although you’ll see a tractor on their place for moving compost, manure and so on, as well as pushing a snowblower, this is a no-till farm. That’s right, the ground is not cultivated via the turning of gears and wheels as in most “farms”… Darren & Breigh “grow” their soil, adding mulch and compost regularly, and practice strict crop rotation; the veggies do not have insect problems or other detrimental “conditions” that can occur because of improper growing practices… just sayin’…