The Quinn family farm has grown over the years. It all began in 1920, my grandfather started with 320 acres of rented land and a milk cow. Slowly he built up a beef cattle herd and added more land to his farm, raising wheat and feed barley and hay for the cows. Later, he bought land from homesteaders for the price of the taxes they owed on it when they had to leave because they couldn’t pay.
My father took over the farm in 1948 and by then it was about 1,500 acres, which he increased to nearly 2,400 acres before turning the farm over to me 30 years later. Dad introduced quite a few changes to the farm. He was an early adopter of ag-chemicals after World War II and also divided large fields into long strips to alternate the crops and reduce wind and water erosion. My father and I farmed together for a few years, using the same agricultural system he had taught me growing up.
But I was also an early adopter, this time the change was from chemical farming to organic farming, where I learned to build the soil with soil building crops and substitute crop rotations to control pests and weeds instead of using pesticides. Naturally, many said it wouldn’t work and I would lose the farm. But if someone tells me it can’t be done, I just have to find a way to prove otherwise! And sure enough, 30 years after our first organic experiment, the farm has not only survived, it has flourished and expanded to nearly 4,000 acres. My university degrees in plant biochemistry and pathology certainly came in handy, especially in helping me to design and carry out the many ongoing experiments on my farm. Fortunately, I also had the help of many like-minded, determined and passionate organic pioneers who gave me lots of ideas and encouragement to create a sustainable system of agriculture on our farm.
What makes our farm a sustainable model are all the things we have developed over the years—much of it more through trial and error than by design. But that’s really at the heart of organic farming. You can certainly do the research and learn the principles, but at the end of the day you have to experiment and adapt those principles to suit your farm, the soil, the geography and decide what you want your farm to be.
I’ve always taken an interest in trying new things, our Kamut International venture has certainly been that. But that is a story all its own. For now, how about a tour of the farm?
While we primarily grow small grains in the fields, including our KAMUT® wheat, there’s a lot more going on here. For instance, on the northeast side of the house we have a family vegetable garden where we grow asparagus, tomatoes, rhubarb and even cantaloupe, to name a few. On the other side of the house, surrounded by an eight-foot snow fence, which doubles as an animal and wind barrier, is a small orchard. We have half a dozen types of raspberries, 23 varieties of apples, several kinds of plums, sour cherries, pears as well as numerous other berry bushes. And while it’s all certainly a work in progress, it’s also an extension of our research regarding the value of organic farming and discovering what might not only survive but flourish on the prairie of North Central Montana.
The Oil Barn® is a fairly new venture for us that uses the organic safflower seeds we grow here on the farm to produce a high-oleic cooking oil. Managed and operated by my son-in-law, Andrew Long, he and my youngest daughter, Bridgette, live on the farm in the house where my parents used to live so we have the additional joy of watching our grandchildren grow up.
Our most recent undertaking is Kracklin’ Kamut®; an organic snack made from roasted KAMUT® grain, The Oil Barn’s safflower oil, and sea salt. We’ve been working on this for a while and are excited for its upcoming release here in Big Sandy, Montana this fall.
Always moving forward, I hope you’ll join me here as I share all the ins and outs of life on an organic farm.