Grow & Tell: Agritourism – Connecting Us to Our Food

Aug 25, 2023 | Grow & Tell - Stories, Local Food Guide

Bob Thaden, owner of Tongue River Winery in Miles City, Montana, guides a woman as she uses bright orange clippers...
Courtesy of Cultivating Connections Montana | Hamilton

Bob Thaden, owner of Tongue River Winery in Miles City, Montana, guides a woman as she uses bright orange clippers to cut robust bunches of grapes from vines strung up on wire fences. The woman isn’t an employee of the winery but a Harvest Host guest. She and other guests at the winery experience being a farmer for a day. Tongue River Winery is one of many farming businesses welcoming guests to experience the hands-on work of their business–it’s become known as “agritourism.”

Agritourism is where agriculture and tourism intersect. Farmers, orchardists, vintners, brewers, and ranchers increasingly recognize that welcoming visitors onto their lands and into their operations benefits everyone. 

For businesses, creative on-farm engagement with the public through tours, harvest parties, U-Picks, demonstration classes, farm-to-table meals, and overnight camping stays, to name a few, enhance and diversify income streams for the farm or ranch, helping them thrive. 

For visitors, agritourism both creates memorable, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and allows for the opportunity to connect tangibly with the sources of our food–the land, water, plants, and animals.  

Today, connection to our food’s origins is surprisingly rare for most of us, to the detriment of our health and community food security.

In the three generations since World War II, our food sources have become centralized, industrialized, chemicalized, and globalized. In Montana, that has meant farm consolidation, surrendering diversity in favor of monocropping, and mainly growing for export into the global supply chain. 

The result? In 1950, 70% of the food Montanans ate was grown in Montana. By 2004 that number was less than 8%; today, it is down to 3%.

As we saw during the COVID-19 pandemic, importing 97% of our food from the global supply chain puts Montanans at risk when access to that chain gets disrupted. Chemical agriculture has unintentionally harmed soils, wildlife, water, and human health. Farm consolidation has meant the loss of family farms and the rural communities that support them. As these food resources have disappeared, including local butchers, bakers, and dairies, our connection to our food sources has become scarcer.

The five enterprises profiled here represent a growing number of Montana farms and ranches reversing the trend of growing big for export. Instead, they practice “stewardship agriculture”–stewarding their land, animal, and human resources to create nourishing, healthy foods for community consumption. They are also inviting people in with the conscious intention of offering visitors a tangible connection to their food and the opportunity to experience stewardship’s positive impact directly. Through art, music, play, and conversations around the table, folks can discover new relationships with their food system.

Old Salt Festival, June 23-25: Celebrating Ranching and Wild Landscapes

Floating Leaf Studios | Old Salt

Don’t miss the first annual Old Salt Festival taking place June 23-25, 2023 in the heart of the Blackfoot Valley. “It’s about people coming together to support the art of land stewardship in Montana. The ranching families that make up Old Salt Co-op see livestock and meat as a bridge between wild landscapes and genuine nourishment for people. This Montana food and music festival is meant to share that message, building relationships between rural and urban Montana,” says founder Cole Mannix. Ticket holders will be treated to a different wood-fire cooked whole animal-based meal each day: charcuterie and whole hog feast on Friday, lamb and beef cooked over a 40-ft fire on Saturday, and a traditional goat Barbacoa by Chef Eduardo Garcia for Sunday brunch. Featuring acclaimed western music and artisans, with ample space for conversations, stories, and camping, Old Salt Festival aims to celebrate and remind us all that “land is kin.”  Buy tickets at

Uniting Artists with Agriculture in an Ocean of Land and Sky

Anna Jones-Crabtree | Vilicus Farms | Havre

Vilicus Farms is a nationally recognized organic dryland crop farm in north-central Montana. Farmers Anna-Jones Crabtree and Doug Crabtree are passionate about stewarding their 12,500 acres and growing a diverse array of pollinator-friendly heirloom and specialty grain crops in thoughtful partnership with nature. Says Anna, “Our collective future on this planet is dependent upon connecting people back to the land in a multitude of ways.” To help cultivate a new generation of stewards, Vilicus Institute has launched an on-farm Artist in Residence program. “Our Northern Great Plains are an amazing, unique ocean of land and sky, and have inspired musicians, painters, sculptors, chefs, and creators of all kinds. Uniting artists with the vibrancy of life on our farm is critical to helping people recognize the reciprocal responsibilities we have with the ecosystems and food systems that sustain us.” Learn more at or email [email protected].

Sharing a Passion for Caring Through Winemaking

Bob Thaden | Tongue River Winery | Miles City

Not many think of southeast Montana as a quality wine region, but the Thaden family, who have a passion for wine-making, caring about their effect on the earth, and welcoming all people, are changing minds and winning awards at Tongue River Winery. The hot, dry summers of Miles City produce flavorful grapes and other wine fruits–if the plants can live through -40℉ winters. The secret is using native Montana grapes crossed with other hardy wine varietals. “If it can’t grow here, we won’t make it,” says owner, Bob Thaden. “We’re interested in regional wines that capture the uniqueness of this place.” This commitment to local is key to their success. “We have something people have never tried before.” Visitors can tour the vineyards, experience winemaking, and stay overnight in the Winery’s B&B or as a Harvest Host camping guest. Learn more at 

Building Community Through Food

Courtesy of Cultivating Connections Montana | Hamilton

Nestled in the Bitterroot Valley on 14 acres, Homestead Organics Farm grows organic mixed vegetables, fruit, and a veritable zoo of goats, potbellied pigs, chickens, geese, and turkeys. The farm also acts as the ‘Farm-Classroom’ for the nonprofit, Cultivating Connections Montana, which offers an array of youth-centered farm programs growing food for the community, family-friendly events, skill-building workshops, and community gatherings. Farm owner-operators Laura Garber and Henry Wuensche note, “Our goal is to grow food, farmers, and community. Just as we take care to nourish the soil that grows the foods we eat, we’re intentional about nourishing the social soil that allows us all to grow together as people and flourish as a society.” Summer visitors are welcome to visit the farm any time except Sundays. “Please close any door or gate that you open, and have a nice visit!” Learn more at

Rave-Worthy Food Challenging the Way Society Taught Us to Eat

Devyn Solomon Photography

Sarah Manuel grew up cooking and learning sustainable organic growing and grazing practices on her family’s Prairie Grass Ranch outside Havre. “I’ve seen first-hand how the food we eat affects our bodies on multiple levels, and that’s inspired my career.” A professional chef since 2018, Sarah nourishes her community via her Farmer Meets Foodie enterprise, which consists of: Streatery food truck in Havre, a private catering business, Farm-to-Freezer prepared meals, and Farm House dinners hosted in a converted farmhouse with a view of the Bear Paw Mountains. Sarah designs her menus around the seasonal abundance of local food, sourcing ingredients from as many as 30 local farms and ranches. “I believe food is one of the ingredients that binds us together. It’s why I design creative cuisine that is authentically prepared, using local, organic and seasonal ingredients.” Learn more at 

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