Save Farmland non-profit aims to protect farmland while promoting small-scale farming

November 17 – A huge wall mural reading “Save Farmland” is scrawled on a former residence on Voerman Road, just east of Whitefish.

The phrase catches the attention of many passers-by according to Scot Chisholm, a Whitefish resident, business owner and founder of the new Flathead Valley nonprofit called the Save Farmland Fund. The mission of the association is to protect and promote the small farmers of the valley by acquiring agricultural land to save them from the reach of developers while supporting young farmers who wish to enter the industry.

Multiple threats threaten the local farming community in Whitefish and surrounding areas, including development which eats away at valuable farmland, the price of land is on the rise, putting it out of reach for many small and large farmers. Food chains monopolize food that is widely available to most consumers, says Chisholm. These are major issues he hopes to help alleviate by establishing the Save Farmland Fund.

“Our model is quite simple: find important plots of land that have agricultural and community value; buy them, protect them under some kind of easement like an active farm easement, and then create programs for them. young farmers exploit this land, ”he explained. .

Save Farmland was born out of this simple mission to protect farmland and help local farmers, but Chisholm didn’t just wake up one day with the vision of creating this non-profit organization.

Chisholm and his wife Carrie, who moved to Whitefish two years ago but have had ties in the valley for many years, have teamed up with Whitefish local Craig McViney to start an organic herb farm business – Haskill Creek Farms. The 30 acre farm located off Edgewood Drive with the beautiful Haskill Creek running through the property is where they grow medicinal herbs, hemp and cannabis. Together, the Chisholms and McVineys have also purchased a property on Voerman Road which they are in the process of converting into the first storefront for Haskill Creek Farms.

Chisholm had an interest in going into the business because of his own experience in using herbs for medicinal purposes.

While living in San Diego, he and a few friends started a business called Classy, ​​which was designed as a donation platform that helps nonprofits connect with supporters online. This business that started out as a desire to facilitate online giving has grown into a massive business that now employs over 300 people and raises over $ 3 billion annually for nonprofits.

But with this growth, as CEO Chisholm was heading in tatters.

“I was in the fast lane from a work standpoint, with no work-life balance, I was just going thousands of miles an hour,” he recalls.

He began to develop multiple health problems such as chronic earaches, migraines and difficulty swallowing. After seeing several doctors and undergoing medical examinations, he still had no answer as to why this was happening. It was then that he began to discover and use medicinal herbs, and eventually CBD and cannabis; combined with dietary changes and then quitting the demanding CEO job, every condition he knew faded away in a matter of weeks.

“This experience made me a strong believer in the power of plants for medicinal purposes, but also only for preventive health and wellness,” he said.

However, during the process of researching herbal remedies, Chisholm found that finding safe, high-quality herbs was a difficult task. Not all herbs that read organic are actually produced with this quality and many herbs are grown in various places around the world with almost no traceability.

“It was almost impossible to find high quality, organic and locally sourced herbal medicines, as well as hemp and cannabis,” he recalls. and that I felt comfortable using. And there isn’t a single company that does all three.

These experiences are what prompted Chisholm to co-found Haskill Creek Farms, which is expected to be a one-stop-shop for herbal medicines, locally grown hemp products and cannabis, as well as other personal wellness products.

Haskill Creek Farms is his own family business and will remain locally operated, but the formation of the business led Chisholm quite interestingly to also found the Save Farmland Fund.

Les Chisholm and McViney created Haskill Creek Farms with a philosophy of stakeholder theory that emphasizes the importance of relationships between stakeholders such as customers, team members and other community members. In order for the company to truly practice this philosophy, the founders needed to ensure that the company had a way to give back to the community because they are a key stakeholder. Chisholm says he has toured the community to ask people what are the main issues facing the area.

“The thing I heard with almost 100% consistency is that we are terrified of development, we are sad to see farmlands and ranches being eaten away, we feel like it there is no protection mechanism [the land], and open spaces in general, ”he said.

With this information, he began to think about how Haskill Creek Farms could positively contribute to these issues. Chisholm and others in the business decided on a membership fee for everyone who does their shopping in their store, and 100% of the membership fee would go to Save Farmland.

Originally, Chisholm wanted to partner with nonprofits that shared similar values. While there are many conservation oriented organizations and community land trust type nonprofits, none specifically did what Save Farmland hoped to accomplish. So he decided to create the Save Farmland Fund as a 501c3 non-profit organization.

“I think it goes further and is much more anchored in the community,” he said. “The problem is really that the next generation doesn’t always want to take over a farm, and then you have all these young farmers who can’t afford the land. I think that’s the key here is to fill that out. pit.”

The Save Farmland Fund has not yet purchased any land using donations as it is still in training and Haskill Creek Farms, which will generate many funds for the association, is not expected to open until January. But Chisholm had a personal purchase of 40 acres off Voerman Road in an attempt to save it from interested developers who he hopes to transfer to the nonprofit Save Farmland if possible.

“It was a personal purchase before Save Farmland existed, so it was in the spirit of Save Farmland,” said Chisholm. “It’s beautiful, the mountains, everything. It’s a great example of a key plot … So we’re currently working with Abundant Montana to find out how we can make this land productive again.”

Save Farmland partners with Abundant Montana, which helps connect local consumers and farmers, and Trust Montana, an organization that builds livable communities while preserving the land.

Save Farmland aims to prevent key farmland from being purchased by developers and hopefully with community support the nonprofit will not only be able to acquire land but also create support programs for small farmers.

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Amalia H. Mercado