Connection, Education and Advocacy
In 2019, berry growers from across the state banded together with MSU extension to establish the Montana Berry Growers Association. Their goal was to build a strong network of berry growers to increase the overall success for small fruit producers. Today, the association encourages and supports state wide development for small fruit markets and its producers through increased access to resources, advocacy, and collaboration.
Travis Greenwalt is co-owner of Hilltop Haven Farm in Missoula, Montana. Hilltop Haven Farm produces saskatoons along with other types of fresh produce. The saskatoon orchard includes approximately 600 plants of Northline, Martin and JB30 varieties, and was established in several phases between 2011 and 2013. Hilltop Haven Farm markets their products through wholesale and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) channels as a member-owner of the Western Montana Growers Cooperative (WMGC). They have also maintained a booth at the Clark Fork River Farmers Market in past years. The farm is a secondary occupation for Travis, his main occupation is as a natural resource economist for Highland Economics (www.highlandeconomics.com). Travis is also co-owner of Ole World Oils, an oilseed processing company that processes, packages and sells camelina seed and oil for human consumption and animal feed supplements (www.camelinagold.com).
Christie Walsh is the co-owner of Township Road Farm near Worden, Montana. She and her husband purchased a 5 acre plot 18 years ago with the dream of filling it with a myriad of fruits. All these years later, they are finally on their way to making their dream a reality. Their farm motto is ‘we grow a little bit of everything’. Their orchard has 32 fruit trees (mostly apples), three large raspberry brambles, a plum thicket, a few rows of Haskaps, a whole corner dedicated to currants, dwarf sour cherries, and 256 wine grape vines. Their vineyard will acquire another 384 grapes next year. Aronia berries, Serviceberries, Sea Buckthorns and Buffalo Berries are on the list of additions that will soon be adorning the farm as well.
Catherine McNeil and her husband, Ken, have spent their lives in agriculture. Their family now owns Apple Bar Orchard in the Helena valley of Montana, one of the original homesteads in the area dating back to the early 1900s. The McNeil family farm hosts seven acres of hay fields and 1.5 acres of fruit. The orchard got its start as a research site for MSU Extension to determine what kinds of berries could be grown in Montana on only .25 acres. The successful berry cultivars gained footing and expanded fruit production to its current acreage, and is now occupied by haskaps, currants, saskatoons, aronia berries, sour cherries, and various apple and pear varieties. Products from Apple Bar Orchard can be found across the state of Montana in various value-added products such as jams, jellies, juice, kombucha, beer, wine, seltzer, pies, tarts, scones, and other baked goods. Catherine loves the nutritional aspects of the haskaps and other Montana-grown berries, and hopes they become a healthy option for Montanans in the future.
Sue and Blaine Billman
Sue Billman, along with her husband Blaine call their 11 acre farm just north of Stevensville, home. This is where Bitterroot Sky Berries was born and became their focus. Though still in its early stages, Bitterroot Sky Berries grows various cultivars of honeyberries (aka haskaps) along with some saskatoons, currants, and blueberries. 2023 should be the first year they will harvest berries and the Billmans are looking forward to both the growing and the marketing challenges ahead. They strongly believe that supporting the Montana Berry Growers Association is a step in the right direction.
Sadie Collins is the owner of Highland Harmony Farm in Wilsall, Montana. The farm includes a young berry orchard with strawberries, raspberries, honeyberries, currants, aronia, and elderberries. Together with her family, Sadie grows berries, vegetables, and flowers for farmer's market sales. Her parents farm on a large scale, growing grains and legumes they also sell at market. All together, they try to keep the focus on soil, and plant health through regenerative practices.
Kim Baertsch co-owns BarbedWire Land, LLC along with her husband, Todd. On 15 acres at the south end of Flathead Lake in Polson, they grow haskap, beef, hay and garlic. The haskap orchard contains 215 bushes and was planted in three phases from 2015-2019. The Haskap berries have been a learning experience, and the quest to find a way to preserve the health properties of the berries while providing an easy way for consumers to enjoy them has led Kim to experiment with freeze drying.
It has been a true pleasure to become involved with growers and after-market producers in Montana and beyond. The possibilities are endless for products containing Montana grown berries and it is exciting to be a part of the evolution.
Melissa Allred is the owner of Aspen Grove Farm in Corvallis, MT. She started Aspen Grove in 2019, but has over 20 years experience as both a fruit and vegetable farmer in the Bitterroot valley. Her six acre farm is home to five acres of honeyberries and one acre of raspberries, strawberries, currants, elderberries, saskatoons, gooseberries, rhubarb and a young fruit orchard.
Aspen Grove produces a line of jams and syrup made from her farm-grown berries. These value-added products can be found in retail and grocery locations throughout the state. Aspen Grove Farm sells fresh and frozen berries at several local farmer's markets as well as U-Pick at the farm during the growing season.
Melissa loves to have her hands in the soil, growing and nurturing her beautiful berries. Introducing people to the flavors of freshly grown berries, especially the honeyberry, is her life's passion.