FVCC Campus Farm Manager Brings Fresh Perspective on Small-Scale Farming

This spring, the FVCC Campus Farm welcomed its new farm manager and on-farm instructor, Dane Regan.

Dane succeeds Julian Cunningham, FVCC’s first farm manager who played an integral role in building the farm’s foundation and learning environment for agriculture students alongside Agriculture Program Director and Associate Professor Heather Estrada. Though new to the teaching sector, Dane brings a fresh perspective on small-scale farming to the program, as well as a more examined integration of farming and food integrity.

Having grown up in the suburbs of Minneapolis, Dane’s first introduction to agriculture began through an internship with the PEAS farm at the University of Montana (UM) where he was drawn to the opportunity to earn credits while working outdoors. Simultaneously he had took an interest in cooking. Gradually, through his access to the farm’s produce and his incorporation of these ingredients in his cooking, Dane began to notice the relationship between the quality of the meals he was preparing with the source of the ingredients he utilized. This was when it all clicked for him. This idea that his physical and mental health and the quality of food he was able to create in the kitchen all relied on the care that was put into the production of these ingredients became the core motivation in his continual pursuit of agriculture and its impacts on our nation’s food system.

Upon completing a degree in environmental studies at UM, Dane sought an apprenticeship at Two Bear Farm with Rebecca and Todd Ulizio in Whitefish, Montana. It was here he was exposed to the true nuances of vegetable production and the approach of intensive small-scale farming, a knowledge base he still pulls from today.

During this time, he not only deepened his knowledge of vegetable production from two esteemed Montana farmers, but was given the opportunity to further explore food production in the livestock sector. With the support of Todd and Rebecca, Dane took on the challenge of raising several hogs for personal meat subsistence. In an effort to continually elevate his understanding of food production, he furthered his education through an intensive butchering and charcuterie program on Vashon Island, Washington. The program taught him the skills necessary to truly take on responsibility for the full cycle of raising and processing his hogs, further elevating his standard and connection to food he produces.

Over the next couple of years Dane found himself venturing to other parts of the world while continuing to participate in agriculture through WWOOF (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms.) While actual farm work was more limited, he found opportunities helping with smaller gardens and cooking with or for his hosts. Between returns to the states, it was through the WWOOF organization that he found further work in acting as an ambassador, visiting and detailing information for future participants of the program.

His eventual return to the states was prompted by earning a position on the farm of the Michelin-starred French Laundry in Napa, California. Though unlike an average vegetable farm, it was a particularly unique enterprise producing solely for a restaurant in which quality, consistency, and hospitality are among the highest in the world. A true experience of food and farming acting as one. But it was also this experience that he attributes to teaching him the power of storytelling to expand and transform our perceptions and connection to food and farming.

Now, upon his return to the Flathead Valley, Dane begins his new path in the role of manager and educator at the FVCC Campus Farm. He has hit the ground running as he works to establish his own crop plan while implementing a new raised-bed system for the farm. It is the raised-bed system that many other small farms have been turning to in recent years as a way to do more with less. Modern technology advancements have allowed farmers to increase their land’s growing capacity by using smaller equipment to manage the soil. It is not only a system that will lend itself to scale of the campus farm, but highlights a way for young farmers to infiltrate the industry in a whole new way. This is particularly important when confronting the hurdles of high land prices and unattainable capital for large-scale and costly equipment.

As Dane begins mentoring students entering the agricultural internship program, he is simultaneously developing methods to support the raised-bed system. This creates the unique situation of both learning alongside his students while also exemplifying the process one goes through to figure out and establish their own farming practices. It is within those practices that he also emphasizes the possibilities within a small-scale production to create an impact in our food industry. Because ultimately the future of farming is not a need for more large farms competing at an industrialized scale, but more small-scale farmers who are able to taste the connection of food and farming.