Soundscapes of Farming at Gallatin Valley Botanical

May 21, 2021 | Grow & Tell - Stories

A farm crew shares their favorite sounds What you notice first on the fifty-seven acres that compose Gallatin Valley Botanical at...

A farm crew shares their favorite sounds

What you notice first on the fifty-seven acres that compose Gallatin Valley Botanical at Rocky Creek Farm is the sheer diversity of crops, and with it, colors, sounds, and smells.

Matt and Jacy Rothschiller have been farming in the Gallatin Valley since 2003, having built their farm from the ground up, “with a shovel and a dream,” starting on a two acre plot in Manhattan. Since then, they acquired the little plot of land at the foothills of the Bridger Mountains, where they raised their two kids, Zachary and Ania, in a small farmhouse that doubled as a pack shed. 

In 2017, Matt and Jacy acquired the adjacent land of Rocky Creek Farm, the popular staple for autumn farm visits in nearby Bozeman, expanding their operations to include pumpkins and tractor rides. With this acquisition, they grew their capacity to include a field crew of twenty people and a half-acre greenhouse to house the farm’s seedlings and chicks. Now, the farm focuses on its large CSA membership and growing poultry operations. 

Gallatin Valley Botanical is notable for its commitment to community access in the local food system. For three summers, the farm has been home to a thriving farm camp, which builds comfort and literacy with the food system for local kids. During the fall of 2020, with widespread unpredictability due to COVID-19, GVB started a farm school as an option for local grade-schoolers to learn in an outdoor environment. Scholarships have been made available to make the camp as financially-accessible as possible.

In the fall of 2020, Matt and Jacy helped steward the “Community Carrot Project,” in which they grew thousands of pounds of carrots for donation to the Montana Food Bank Network, which then distributed the carrots to food banks across Montana. The Project depended on volunteer labor and collaboration with the Gallatin Valley Food Bank under the HRDC.

Middle-school-age volunteers harvest carrots as part of the “Community Carrot Project.”

Kids from the Gallatin Valley learn about how their food is grown, and how to care for the landscape, at the Farm Camp.

A young farm camper interacts with a friendly sheep while tending to animal chores.

Soundscapes of Farming

This spring the vibrant life on the farm is audible. A pair of sandhill cranes return to the farm year after year. Their warbling, dinosaur-like cries echo from the sky before they rest in the fields and forage for old crop debris. A killdeer, –a small, amber-colored bird with stilt legs– whistles its warning cry, protective of its eggs tucked into a field furrow. A starling lives perched above the pack-shed, imitating the swooping cry of a hawk.

The swift-flowing water of Rocky Creek and the songbirds that live in the trees there are a constant sonic backdrop. The Northern Pacific Train, which runs through Bear Canyon and winds its way just past the farm, charges through every hour or so with its long rumbling hum. In the fall, bugling elk echo their eerie song from the foothills and the trees grow quieter as the songbirds leave for the south. 

Nearby, the sheep bleat to each other in the pasture, Rocky Creek gurgles with spring melt, the laying hens and broiler chickens cluck near the flower fields, and the farm cat Teddy mewls from his nap spot near the mechanic shed where a tractor revs up for the day.

Needless to say, organic farming, as idyllic as it literally sounds, is filled with long hours of repetitive tasks, with the body in uncomfortable positions a chiropractor might shake their head at (or, if done right, applaud.) While the workers at GVB welcome this diverse soundscape, in the day-to-day of farming, sometimes it feels right to put in headphones and listen to sounds curated for the ears. It takes a particular skill and experience to know what sounds will help get you through a strenuous task in the hot sun.

In what follows, longtime farmers at GVB offer their music and podcast recommendations. After years of working on the farm –harvesting, weeding, transplanting, teaching and packing– they are wizened DJs for farm work.

“My favorite sound is the crew laughing out in the field, when things are just humming along and people are connecting with each other.” – Jacy

Jacy smiles in the massive greenhouse –AKA “the space ship.”

“My favorite work sound is the laughter and chatter of the crew out in the field, when things are just humming along and people are connecting.”

Matt pauses while troubleshooting an issue with a trusty GVB tractor.

“I like listening to Sturgill Simpson and political podcasts.”

Matt is also often found listening to farm machinery to make sure it is running well, and teaching farmhands the gift of recognizing the sweet hum of a well-running engine.

Tom, the greenhouse manager, holds a slice of cucumber – the first of the season.

“Lately I’ve been listening to Cut Copy, an Australian band.”

You can also find Tom listening to “Shake Appeal” on KGLT on Tuesday mornings.

Adam, the manager and co-founder of the Farm School and Camp, holds a duckling in the greenhouse.

“I’ve been listening to the [Grateful] Dead and associated acts in the ’60s. Also an audiobook on island biogeography.”

You’ll also find Adam listening to the insights and commentary of the spunky farm camp kids crew.

Lauren, the co-facilitator and teacher at the Farm School, takes lunch with her dog CC and a fellow camper.

“I honestly prefer the sounds of this place – the birds, plants, the land– over music.”

You’ll also find Lauren listening to the questions and shouts of farm campers as they adventure in the field.

Alley, the market manager, poses with freshly picked rainbow chard in a greenhouse.

“I’m listening to the ‘This Is 70s Playlist’ on Spotify, and also ‘Ologies,’ a Podcast with Alie Ward.” 

Alley also DJs funky music in the pack shed and occasionally demos the overall shuffle (a timeless farm dance move.)

Gallatin Valley Botanical is located on the un-ceded lands originally stewarded by the Cheyenne, Salish-Kootenai and Crow people, who converged in the fertile Gallatin Valley, along with many other Indigenous peoples, for thousands of years before the forceful arrival of white people. Indigenous perspectives are vital in the present as Montana food systems shift to become more equitable for all. 

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