by Enrico Villamaino
Since 2007, Two Bear Farm, located in Whitefish, MT, has been providing high quality, healthy, nutritious vegetables to its community while also focusing on improving soil health, wildlife habitat and serving as good land stewards in general.
Founded by husband and wife Todd and Rebecca Ulizio, Two Bear is situated between Glacier National Park and Kootenai National Forest. “I studied wildlife biology and worked as a field researcher for eight years before going into farming,” Todd Ulizio explained. “Rebecca studied agroecology in college. We founded Two Bear because we believe true leadership that benefits average Americans, rather than corporations, is going to have to come from the ground up.”
With a season that runs from April to November, Todd and Rebecca work year-round, and they have four to six full-time seasonal employees who help during the main growing season. Ulizio said, “We are best known for our sweet carrots, but we grow more than 40 varieties of vegetables. Even in this cold, challenging climate in northwest Montana, we grow everything from spinach and salad mixes to tomatoes, sweet corn and winter squash. Carrots, salad mix, cherry tomatoes and cauliflower are some of our customer favorites.”
Two Bear also serves as a prime example of a community supported agriculture (CSA) program, offering a certain number of shares to the public. According to Ulizio, “We sell all of our food within our valley (Flathead Valley). We have 250 CSA members, we do three farmers markets each week and we sell wholesale to some health food stores and through a small local distribution company (Wicked Good Produce).”
Another very successful program at Two Bear is its apprenticeship program. “We began our apprenticeship program in 2010,” Ulizio said. “And we’ve attracted young adults from all parts of the country. However, due to federal labor law, apprenticeships where the students provide a benefit to the farm, through labor, are technically illegal. So, a few years ago, we just started paying our employees an hourly wage. We still have to train most people from scratch, given there is really not much of an experienced labor pool in this industry. And the employees like that they still receive an education and a paycheck.”
Two Bear is often beholden to the whims of nature and the annual thaw when it comes to planting season. “Our snow melted off the fields on April 3. Up until then, we were growing our field starts in the greenhouse, as well as crops in our five high tunnels,” Ulizio said. “Right now, we’re in the big push to get all our cold hardy crops out into the field, given our average last frost date in this area is June 10. So right now, we’re already harvesting salad mix, spinach, radishes, baby bok choy and hakurei turnips. And we’re busy planting cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, onions, carrots, beets and more successions of salad, spinach and radishes. Potatoes will go in the ground shortly.”
Fully committed to keeping to the principles and practices of organic farming, Ulizio hopes to lead by example at Two Bear. “Our goal is to provide ourselves and community members with nutritious food that improves human health, and I don’t believe there is any way to do that other than through organic practices. I have farmed organically my entire farm career, and I would not consider using toxins (synthetic fertilizers, herbicides or insecticides) in the production of food,” he stated. “I also think organic practices are the only way to build and improve soils, with a focus these days shifting to minimizing tillage to build the soil food web and getting atmospheric carbon back in the soil where it belongs.”
What’s in store at Two Bear? “We really hope to focus on helping our community be vibrant and working to inform about the benefits that community-based food systems offer,” Ulizio said. “With rural communities getting hollowed out by commodity production and the global food system, I think it’s super important to build an alternative food system that provides more benefits to both farmers and consumers. Right now we’re really focused on improving and opening the dialogue with other farmers to find them alternative markets or production practices that are more beneficial than the status quo. That, and trying to manage our stress so that we can enjoy the farm season!”
For more information, visit www.twobearfarm.com .