In an effort to connect people with local agriculture and horticulture, Montana State University Sanders County Extension Office in Thompson Falls has created a series of farm and ranch tours that will take place over the remainder of summer.
“People will get to see a different variety of agriculture on these tours,” said Wendy Carr, County Extension Agent for agriculture, horticulture and natural resources. “I want to expose people to the variety that we have in this county.”
The first stop on the schedule last Thursday was a tour through Wildhorse Lavender Farm in Plains, owned by Bruce Beckstead and Carissa McNamara. Around 30 attendees had the chance to learn about the health and well-being that comes from using food from the garden and the natural, surrounding environment. The tour also included a lesson in tea blending, a plant’s medicinal benefits in food and teas and a lesson in how to set up a simple bucket method for growing mushrooms. While the farm is not open to the public yet, the goal is to make that a reality in the next three years.
“The Extension agency is doing amazing at connecting the community with the producers and that’s what we need,” McNamara said.
While learning the health benefits and advantages of tea blending, guests got to make their own cup of tea with ingredients geared toward helping whatever ailments they experience. The majority of the tea blend ingredients were found right on the family’s farm. “We have wild foraged sage, spruce, rose petals, lavender, mint and rosemary,” McNamara said. “The rest is Montana sourced from Mountain Rose.”
After finishing their cup of tea, the group followed Beckstead through the fruit orchard, past a brood of ducklings, a noisy rooster and some honey bee hives, just short of stopping at the rolling lavender fields.
The family purchased 2,500 lavender plants for the season and had around 1,500 in the ground with around 1,000 that still needed to be planted. Both McNamara and Beckstead have found the lavender breed called Phenomenal to be the most successful with their raised bed layout. “It takes 25 pounds of plant matter to get three to four ounces of oil,” McNamara said. The oil production was a top priority in choosing the lavender breeds to plant on the farm, as she uses the oil for cooking.
“Lavender is funny,” McNamara said. “When it’s growing, it likes to be watered. Once it gets to a certain growth, it likes wind and it is sensitive to root rot.”
Daisy Carlsmith of Thompson Falls wanted to know how the family has managed to keep all the vermin out of the lavender, to which Carissa replied that the soil isn’t in good enough of a condition for them to burrow through.
After wrapping up a tour through the lavender fields with a walk through the greenhouse, the group took a seat for a lesson on how to grow mushrooms that included tips and tricks for anyone wanted to get started on growing their own from either a food grade plastic bucket or for a more traditional approach, in a log.
“If grown from a fresh cut log that hasn’t been contaminated by any other spores, that log can produce up to 18 years in a good environment,” McNamara said.
For more information on upcoming tours and how to register for the next tour, contact Carr at (406) 827-6934 or [email protected]