SIFT (Small-Scale Intensive Farm Training program) was created to help every community increase their food security by producing their own healthy food. SIFT, with NCAT, is developing a working, sustainably managed, demonstration farm on five acres at our Butte, Montana, headquarters. This farm serves as the backdrop for an intensive, hands-on training program that teaches farmers and future farmers, urban food producers, community leaders, and citizens how to commercially produce high-value, nutrient-rich food on small parcels of land.
20' x 40'. Originally tilled up in 2011, we currently have four wide beds in this plot. The east half was prepared by rototiller with composted steer manure incorporated into the soil, while the west half was prepared by double-digging, with compost incorporated into the soil. This season we will experiment to see which method works better for us.
Currently growing: Jersey Supreme and Mary Washington asparagus varieties (perennials) overwintering.
20' x 40'. Originally tilled up in 2011, and amended with compost. Rows of many crop varieties are wide and close together.
Currently growing: Nothing-- too cold!.
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013, and amended with composted steer manure..
Currently growing: Nothing-- too cold!.
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013.
Currently growing: Three varieties of recently-planted hardneck garlic (Music, German Red, and Russian Red varieties) that will overwinter and be harvested around late July.
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013.
Currently growing: A winter-killed cover crop of winter wheat and Austrian winter peas that was planted to add organic matter and nitrogen has been left in the ground to protect the soil.
The garage houses NCAT's company Priuses, but SIFT also uses it for storage purposes. Most of our tools and hoses hang in here, as well as many of our seeds. Under the overhang on the north side of the garage where we hang our garlic to cure, we have a wash station to process our vegetables as we harvest them for sale at our farm stand or donation to the food bank.
Latest Temperature: 96.08 FLast Updated: 2014-04-19 13:05:07 MST
12' x 40'. Built in 2011 using untreated 2"x8" hemfir boards for the baseboards, rebar, 2" PVC pipes for the hoops, 1" PVC pipes for purlins, untreated 1x4" hemfir boards for hipboards, plywood for the north end, and 6-mil greenhouse film from Farmtek as a cover. The sides can roll up to the hipboards, approximately 4' above the baseboards, to provide air circulation in summer. Total cost: about $1,500.
Currently growing: Nothing-- too cold! Summer's sorghum/sudangrass cover crop residue remains to protect the soil and further decompose.
Latest Temperature: 100.76 FLast Updated: 2014-04-19 13:02:25 MST
12' x 40'. Built in 2011 using untreated 2"x8" hemfir boards for the baseboards, rebar, 2" PVC pipes for the hoops, 1" PVC pipes for purlins, untreated 1"x4" hemfir boards for hipboards, plywood for the ends, and 5-mm Solexx as a cover. Total cost: about $1,800.
Currently growing: Annapolis and Cavendish strawberries (perennials) overwintering.
Latest Temperature: 57.56 FLast Updated: 2014-04-08 09:22:05 MST
12' x 40'. Built in 2011 using untreated 2"x8" hemfir boards for the baseboards, rebar, 2" PVC pipes for the hoops, 1" pvc pipes for purlins, untreated 1"x4" hemfir boards for hipboards, and 6- mil greenhouse film from FarmTek as a cover. A 30% reflective shadecloth covers the top of the hoop house to block some of the hot sun, and the sides of the hoop house can roll up to the hipboards, approximately 2' above the baseboards, to provide air circulation in summer. Total cost: about $1,500.
Currently growing: Overwintering parsnips in a small quadrant. The rest is devoted to trench composting and mulching.
Latest Temperature: 84.92 FLast Updated: 2014-04-10 09:58:42 MST
12' x 40'. Built in 2011 using untreated 2x8" hemfir boards for the baseboards, rebar, 2" pvc pipes for the hoops, 1" pvc pipes for purlins, untreated 1x4" hemfir boards for hipboards, plywood for the north end, and 6-mil greenhouse film from Farmtek as a cover. A 30% bulk shadecloth covers the top of the hoop house to block some of the sun, and the sides of the hoop house can roll up to the hipboards, approximately 2' above the baseboards, to provide air circulation in summer. Total cost: about $1,500.
Currently growing: This soil in this hoop house has been covered with a layer of manure and mulched.
In addition to the greenhouse attached to the south side of the NCAT building (not pictured on this map), the SIFT farm includes this freestanding greenhouse. Built in 1978 as a demonstration of a low-cost passive solar greenhouse (meaning we add no additional heat), and facing due south to capture the maximum amount of sunlight, NCAT employees used it for years to grow vegetables in the raised beds. SIFT took over management of the greenhouse in 2011.
Currently growing in the freestanding greenhouse: Nothing-- we couldn't get plants off to an early enough start at the end of the summer to be big enough to live through the winter.
Currently growing in the attached greenhouse: Sage.
Constructed in 2012 from old shipping pallets and revamped in 2013, the majority of SIFT's composting happens in these four large bins. With donations from local grocery stores, cafes, and community members, as well as scraps from around the farm, we build our own valuable soil amendment. Compost is great for adding nutrients to the soil, as well as binding together soil particles to improve soil structure and better retain water and nutrients—an essential when your soil is as sandy as ours.
Composting is essentially just speeding up the natural process of decomposition and using it to your advantage. It will work whether you have a fancy bin or a hole in the ground, whether you turn and aerate it regularly or leave it alone. But the fastest way to make great compost is to alternate layers of a few inches of "brown," high-carbon materials (like dried leaves, straw, strips of newspaper, coffee filters) with a few inches of "green," high-nitrogen materials (like fruit and vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, tea bags, eggshells, garden scraps). Keep the pile moist and make sure air is getting inside by turning the pile with a shovel or pitchfork once every week or two. If it's getting aerated, the microbes in the pile doing all the decomposing should heat things up to about 140 degrees F; regular turning maintains this temperature. Once the pile has cooled down, if none of the inputs are recognizable and the compost smells like good soil, it's ready to use. If turning the pile isn't an option, it will just take a few more months to decompose. To learn more, check out Camille's Compost Tutorial, and the ATTRA publication, Composting: The Basics.
With the help of numerous volunteers from the food bank, AmeriCorps, NCAT, and Butte's Chief Executive, the food bank garden has broken ground! The Butte Emergency Food Bank has no space for a garden on their site, so we've located it at the SIFT farm. It provides fresh, local produce for the food bank, which primarily gets donations of canned or processed foods. If you're interested in volunteering at the food bank garden and helping them grow fresh, tasty, nutrient-packed produce for those in need, email us!
We love having kids come to the SIFT farm. It's rare to see a child as excited about eating a vegetable as when they've just pulled it out of the ground-- seeing and understanding where food comes from is one of the most important parts of developing healthy eating habits. That, and digging in the dirt is just a lot of fun.
We enlisted the help of some local kindergarteners in preparing the designated kids garden, where school classes, summer camps, and other groups can come to participate in some small-scale farming. If you're interested in bringing a group over, shoot us an email via the contact form at the top of the page.
The native hedgerow is composed of a variety of shrubs and grasses native to Montana in a two-row border around the SIFT farm. The outer row includes the saskatoon/service berry and chokecherry, which grow to about 12-14 feet and produce edible berries, and the inner row includes golden currant, which also produces edible berries, woods rose, and silverberry, which grow to about 6-8 feet. A third row of basin wildrye grass completes the hedgerow.
Native plants need little care and watering once established since they're adapted to the local climate, and their presence will both protect crops from strong winds and increase biodiversity-- important in strengthening the health of the farm by attracting beneficial species that help pollinate and control pests. The flowers of native plants attract significantly more local insects than the flowers of non-natives, so with this hedgerow we can attract many more pollinators to the farm. Before planting the hedgerow, there was just one shrub and one tree on the entire property, so the hedgerow will be a huge improvement to our farm's biodiversity.
When you're in the midst of a winter that has seen temperatures free-fall as far as 30 below zero, it's a good time to stay inside, have a cup of cocoa, and sit down to do some planning. At the SIFT farm in Butte, there are strawberries overwintering…
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