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.
A small section of perennials including: raspberries, rhubarb, and strawberries.
20' x 40'. Originally tilled up in 2011 and amended with compost and manure.
Currently growing: asparagus, Butter Lettuce, Romaine, mixed lettuce, Chard, scallions, Arugula, and green onions.
20' x 40'. Originally tilled up in 2011, and amended with compost and manure.
Currently growing: strawberries for outdoor trial, three varieties of carrots (Nelson's Hybrid, Purple Haze, and Sugar Snax), and three varieties of peas (Sugar Snap, Oregon Giant Snow, and Cascadia Snap).
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013, and amended with manure.
Currently growing: three varieties of strawberries for an outdoor spring trial.
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013, amended with manure.
Currently growing: three varieties of beets (Touchstone Golden, Round Red, and Bull's Blood), Bok Choy, Sugar Snax carrots, and two varieties of broccoli (Umpqua and Arcadia).
20' x 40'. Tilled up in 2013, amended with manure.
Currently growing: a cover crop of peas, soil splitting rasdish, rye, and oats.
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 for produce processing.
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. A 30% reflective shadecloth covers the top of the hoop house to block some of the hot sun, and the sides can roll up to the hipboards, approximately 4' above the baseboards, to provide air circulation in summer. Soil amended with manure. Total cost: about $1,500.
Currently growing: Currently growing: A variety of summer squash.
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.
A variety of tomatoes including: Stupice, Taxi, Siletz, Celebrity, Big Beef, Bell Star, and Red/Gold Cherry.
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. 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: A variety of peppers and beans.
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. Soil amended with manure. Total cost: about $1,500.
Currently growing: Three types of Strawberries and a variety of herbs in secession including: Basil, Dill, Parsley, and Cilantro.
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: No crops in the greenhouse—we're in the process of improving the greenhouse. The raised beds in front contain chives, mint, dill, thyme, oregano, garden sage, and nemorosa sage.
Currently growing in the attached greenhouse: Cucumbers.
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.
18' x 32'. Donated and built with Energy Corp labor in 2015.
Currently growing: Millet cover crop.
Chickens are a natural for a small sustainable ag operation, being naturally handy as pest, weed, and fertility management tools. And, of course, a source of tasty eggs. We have four types of chickens including: Rhode Island Reds, Black Stars, Red Stars, and Pearl White Leghorns. For our chickens we have a moveable chicken coop on skids that we move with a tractor.
Our chickens are currently working on clearing out a space for a sixth plot.
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.
One of the goals of the SIFT Farm in 2015 was to get into more markets to increase the profitability of the farm. The farm team explored market opportunities in a small city like Butte and identified a handful of direct and wholesale channels that might…
In most places, irrigation is a necessity of farming. Most row crop operations require some irrigation, even in areas that receive 40 inches or more of annual precipitation. In the semi-arid and arid West, irrigation is a given, except on large ranches…