HOME GROWN, FARM RAISED — Jacob and Courtney Cowgill stand with their daughter Willa in the high tunnel on their organic farm outside of Conrad. Besides the high tunnel, they start their crops in a green house and have about 20 acres of land to plant in. I-O Photo by Deanna Wakkinen
By Deanna Wakkinen, I-O Reporter
Plant a seed and it will grow. For Jacob and Courtney Cowgill, their seed is a locally owned and operated organic farm just outside of Conrad.
Montana born and raised, Jacob grew up on Red Butte Lane near Sand Coulee and Courtney spent her childhood on a farm between Dutton and Brady. Returning to their roots, they had never envisioned themselves as farmers, but here they stand before me with dirt stained skin and Muck boots.
Prairie Heritage Farm is a small scale, diversified farm that, to Courtney, is like the kind of farm that existed in this region 50-100 years ago. This farm is focused on three main enterprises: organic vegetables, organic heritage pasture-raised turkeys and heritage and ancient grains.
The Cowgills primarily sell their products directly to customers through Community Supported Agriculture, CSA. CSA is unique in that customers buy “shares” in the farm’s crop, usually at the beginning of the season, and in return receive goods throughout the growing season. Not only is this great for the customer in that they know where their food is coming from but also in that the farmer is able to acquire the needed start up funds for the year. The customer shares in the glory as well as in the risks of farming through this program.
The ripe rewards of the customer’s shareholding can be picked up weekly for roughly 16-18 weeks during the summer. The Cowgills also offer a Thanksgiving CSA that gives the customer an organic heritage turkey as well as the vegetables needed to make a Thankgiving feast.
This is their third year farming and working with CSA in Conrad. They have raised turkeys for four years now. They have participated in the farmer’s market in Great Falls in the past but have decided not to participate this year. They have doubled their CSA membership since last year and are selling wholesale to Mountain Front Market in Choteau and to Gary and Leo’s IGA in Conrad.
When the Cowgills aren’t busy pulling weeds or chasing turkeys, you’ll find them with their almost one year old daughter Willa. Jacob is a full time farmer as of this past winter but Courtney keeps herself busy working from home.
Courtney is a journalist who helped to start the website NewWest.net, is the managing editor of MediaShift, a PBS website that covers digital media, and is also the founder of the Rural News Network project at the University of Montana. She focuses her writing career around rural issues and agriculture.