Straight to the Source: Blackworm Instruments

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

Andrew Olivo grew up in a place much different than Bozeman, but even though he was born in The Bronx and grew up in upstate New York, he found his home in the Gallatin Valley. Four years ago, Olivo left the East Coast for Montana, and he hasn’t looked back since–finding a community that supports his business of crafting instruments. 

Being an artist at heart, Olivo’s inspiration for the craft has always been inspired by his artistic leanings. Always having a desire to work with his hands, Olivo finds satisfaction in the process of crafting wood into guitars, and especially in seeing, and hearing, the final result. While Olivo’s artist endeavors ended as a luthier, he began through more traditional avenues: drawing, painting and sculpting, which eventually led to Olivo predominately drawing guitars.

Of the many ways his art could take life, Olivo has always had a love for wood because of the variability that it offers. For him, it keeps things exciting, because every new piece of maple or walnut brings something unique and personal to the table. Olivo also mentioned that with this type of art, “everything can speak for itself”, and he enjoys letting the wood tell it’s own story, fostering a sort of symbiotic relationship between the artist and his medium. 

Unlike many luthiers that produce large quantity batches, Olivo’s focus has (and will always be) to build instruments as an art form more so than a means of production. For him, he’d rather sit down and work with the vision of a particular artist than produce large batches of instruments to which he will never know the owner, for him it’s personal.

Olivo’s operation is minimal, and as he mentioned himself, he’s “a 25 year old dinosaur.” After visiting his shop for myself, I can agree. Rather than working with technology and drafting on a computer, Olivo prefers to start with just a few supplies–a pencil, paper, and centerline. This is where the artistic process begins, and it seems more natural. Even though he uses what some in the industry may consider “primitive”, Olivo couldn’t be more content.

Not only is his process of drafting rather minimal, but his shop is home to only the essential tools and machines of his trade. Rather than depending on large machinery, Olivo does a lot of the carving and detail work by hand.

It is this aspect of his trade that keeps his craft true to his vision. In starting out, he had the goal of making art, and it would be easy to think that it was merely happenstance that he was able to make something practical along the way.

Follow Blackworm Instruments – Instagram | Facebook

Straight to the Source: Foxglove Flower Farm

By Taylor Barrett

Driving north on Love Lane, you will pass Three Hearts Farms, the home of Foxglove Flower Farm. Most days of the week, you can find Dylan Fishman, the founder, growing over 40 species of flowers, with over 100 varieties. Dylan operates Foxglove with his business partner, Kaitlyn Albers, and they both have a big heart for farming.

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Both Dylan and Kaitlyn are graduates of Montana State University, earning their degrees in the Sustainable Food and Bioenergy Systems program. Dylan grew a passion for flowers while working on several farms in Montana, and back home in Illinois, including Prairie Farm Corps, Rocky Creek Farm, Towne’s Harvest Garden, and Three Hearts Farm, the farm that he now leases land from. Kaitlyn found her passion for growing flowers while working at Chance Farm, and has worked on several small farms in Montana and her home state of Minnesota.

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Their mission is simple: to operate a flower farm with natural production methods and spread joy within the community. Foxglove Flower Farm strives to produce a product free of chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, and GMO crops. Through a process of farming that more closely resembles the natural ecosystem, they seek to promote biodiversity, efficiency, and plants’ overall health.

Another key component of the process is transparency, and Dylan welcomes any questions about how and why he farms the way he does. From spending time with Dylan at his farm and at the farmers market, I could tell how much passion he has for our community, mentioning, “I just love everything about harvesting flowers, boqueting flowers, and the joy they bring people.” He also mentioned the need for a strong sense of community, especially right now, and how Bozeman is lucky to be so supportive and driven.

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Together, the flowers are produced and distributed within Bozeman, and the joy brought to everyone is invaluable. In a time such as now, when routine seems hard to find in a world of what might just seem like chaos, you can sure as hell find routine in coming home to flowers on the kitchen table and a smile on your face.

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Among the variety of flowers grown at the farm, Dylan and Kaitlyn’s favorites include Foxgloves (duh), sunflowers, snapdragons, sweet peas, scabiosas, and dahlias (which are just starting to bloom).

Foxglove Flower Farm offers weekly or biweekly CSA subscriptions, custom orders, and wedding arrangements. Visit them in person at the Lindley Farmer’s Market every Tuesday at 5pm, or schedule a U-Pick, and go to the farm and pick a bucket of flowers for yourself — perfect for spending the afternoon with someone you love.

Follow Foxglove Flower Farm – Instagram | Facebook

http://www.foxgloveflowerfarm.com

Happy Trash Can: Waste Reduction in the Gallatin Valley

By Taylor Barrett and Max Wellman

When deciding to start a business, Ryan Green and Adrienne Huckabone knew there was no place better than Bozeman, Montana. They came here with a love for the environment, a love for Montana, and, well, a love for turning rotten food waste into nutrient rich soil amendment. With no existing compost service in town, they had found their niche in the local market. 

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Starting in 2016 with a handful of customers, Happy Trash Can Curbside Composting now has a wide base of residential customers and an impressive list of commercial customers, including the Community Food Co-op and Heebs Fresh Market. 

For Green and Huckabone, composting is more than a profession, it’s their passion. Happy Trash Can’s goal is not to build a massive customer base––that’s just a pleasant side effect––their goal is to help raise awareness and build a movement that pushes Bozeman, and the world, toward a brighter and more sustainable future. And given that they are currently collecting approximately 10,000 pounds of food waste that would have been sent to the landfill every week, it’s easy to say they are off to a good start.

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Green initially became interested in compost and diverting food waste because of his love for both the culinary arts and agriculture. Studying Environmental Science and Organic Agriculture, Green has always had a passion for all things food––mentioning that “growing your own food is one of the best ways that you can connect to your own natural environment,” and you can see the truth of this statement in the passion he has when he talks about Happy Trash Can.

Huckabone on the other hand studied fine art and was particularly interested in creating works inspired by environmental issues––giving her a moral and political focus as an artist. Soon after meeting Ryan, Huckabone decided it was time to take physical action and see how two individuals could help their local environment on a larger scale.

Throughout Green’s career, he began to notice a trend of rampant waste in the food industry, telling us that “roughly 50% of food is wasted between the manufacturer and consumer” in the United States. Which––in the light of climate change and food shortages around the globe––is a rather disturbing thought. 

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Originally working at Strike Farms on the outskirts of Bozeman, Ryan and Adrienne asked the owner, Dylan Strike, if they could use a portion of the acreage at his farm to start a community compost service in exchange for their work. Strike understood the importance of having locally sourced compost and was immediately onboard. In partnership, Green and Huckabone started Happy Trash Can.

Along with Strike Farms, the Community Food Co-op quickly became instrumental in helping Green and Huckabone gain traction. The Co-op was not only their first customer, but they also helped pave the way for future customers. At the same time that Ryan and Adrienne were brainstorming how they were going to market their business, Lori Petermann, the Co-op’s Production Kitchen Manager, happened to be looking for a consistent compost service in order to cut down the amount of waste the Co-op was sending to the landfill.

Green and Huckabone’s initial relationship with Strike Farms and the Co-op would end up being beneficial for not only all three businesses, but also the local community and the Gallatin Valley’s environment at large. With Happy Trash Can supplying their services to Bozeman, there was not only less waste being sent to the landfill, but there were also large amounts of could-be-waste products being recycled and given back to members of the community and local farmers. Since the summer of 2017, the Co-op has saved approximately 275,000 pounds of trash to date, and Happy Trash Can is now processing over 500,000 pounds annually. That’s nothing to scoff at.

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Closing the gap in the food cycle has always been Happy Trash Can’s key focus, and they’ve been able to slowly but surely spread awareness about the benefits of composting. Today, Happy Trash Can has over 375 residential customers on top of their already impressive list of commercial customers, and this list includes many of Bozeman’s favorite eateries, coffee shops, and restaurants, including Wild Joe’s Coffee Spot, Nova Cafe, Lot G Cafe, Feed Cafe, The Daily Coffee & Eatery, Rockford Coffee, Ale Works, Wild Crumb, Dean’s Zesty Booch, Five on Black, Rosauer’s, Costco, and as we mentioned before, the Community Co-op and Heebs Fresh Market. 

This list is something to be proud of, and it shows the impact Happy Trash Can has had on Bozeman’s conception of composting. And really, it’s not ending in the Gallatin Valley. Happy Trash Can has also expanded their services to Livingston and Belgrade, and they have initiatives inside of some of Bozeman’s schools, partnering with Hawthorne School and the Montessori School to bring composting and gardening projects to the students to help get future generations interested in sustainable practices. 

When asked about what it’s like for the youth to see the process and benefits of composting, Green told us that “it’s going to create a generation that grew up composting.” Happy Trash Can is striving to create a future where composting is just as common as recycling.

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Mitch Bradley, the owner of Heebs Fresh Market, mentioned that composting and diverting food waste not only makes him feel better as a business owner, but he also told us that it’s “the direction [he thinks]  we should go as a country.” Ryan quipped that you don’t even need Happy Trash Can to start composting, you can do it in your own backyard, with Huckabone adding that they’re “just here for the people who don’t have the time and space, or want, to do it themselves.” While this is a way to earn a living for the Happy Trash Can couple, it’s much more than that–it’s a way of life, and for them, the more people living this way, the better.

The work of Happy Trash Can and their patrons in Bozeman show us that we do in fact have the ability to change the way we live, and it doesn’t have to be an arduous and painful journey. In fact, it can be quite fun–as long as you’re okay with the smell of rotten vegetables.

If you want to see how Happy Trash Can could benefit your business or if you want to get your own residential curbside composting bin, go here: https://www.happytrashcan.net/

And before you ask, Happy Trash Can does all the clean up. All you do is collect your compost, set it on the curb, and wait for your clean bucket to arrive back at your curbside. You won’t only be supporting two driven Bozemenites when you do this, you’ll also be helping to keep Bozeman clean and beautiful, something we can all appreciate. 

Additional Resources – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: Alternatives for Waste Management https://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_g/G314.pdf

Follow Happy Trash Can – Instagram | Facebook

Sponsored by

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Heebs

Pirate Guitars: Luthier in the Mountains

By Taylor Barrett & Max Wellman

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Andy Armstrong, a local Bozeman luthier and founder of Pirate Guitars, originally grew up in Rochester, Minnesota. Andy is an interesting guy–he has a love for the outdoors, he is well traveled, and he builds guitars (an exceedingly interesting and rare pursuit). We often think of guitars as being mass produced in large factories, shipping from far off countries to grace the stages and concert venues we love so much. However, there is a market–no matter how niche–for custom built, handmade guitars, and we figured there would be no better way to gain insight into this mysterious business than to sit down with a luthier. We met up with Andy to talk about his passions, influences, and upbringing–everything that brought him to Montana to pursue the business of crafting instruments.  

When asked about growing up in Minnesota, Andy stated that “there wasn’t much for kids to do except play outside and be active… so [it was] pretty great.” At the age of 16, Andy moved to Stuttgart, Germany, after his Dad took a job abroad. For some of his siblings, this would be a trying decision: moving to a foreign land far away from their friends, family, and everything they knew growing up, but for Andy, this wouldn’t prove to be a difficult transition. Andy has always been keen on new experiences and he was ready for a change of scenery, knowing it would at least be an interesting experience to finish school in a foreign country.

After graduating high school, Andy decided to attend college in Europe. He applied to a university in Madrid, Spain, and studied there for a year before dropping out. After a few years in Spain, Minnesota beckoned Andy back to the states, bringing him to the Twin Cities to finish his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts at the University of Minnesota. In Minnesota, Andy’s older brother encouraged him to pick up a guitar, a passion he wouldn’t put down.

Following graduation, Andy moved to Eugene, Oregon, for a change of pace, and life in the pacific northwest helped him find his passion for music. After picking up the guitar for the first time at 21, Andy grew ambitious about his love for music, playing anything from the blues, classic rock, jazz, folk music, to bluegrass. It didn’t really matter what he was playing, so long as it involved six strings and a melody.

Andy played his tunes and, like most musicians, realized that there was unavoidable wear-and-tear on his guitar that plagues everyone, but instead of compromising and finding his way to the nearest guitar store in search of a string change and minor repairs, Andy asked his friend, Steve Holst, to help him with the repairs. This utilitarian way to save a few bucks and learn more about his instrument would turn out to be a defining moment for Andy; after this, Andy shadowed Steve and began to learn the ins and outs of repairing guitars.

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Concert Ukulele – Redwood

Andy grew passionate about the inner workings of his instrument, and he realized that he didn’t have to stop at small bridge adjustments and tunings, instead, he asked Steve if he might build him a ukulele. But instead of building Andy a ukulele, he simply told him: “you should just build one.” These words would eventually bring Andy to where he is today: building his own guitars that he now plays and sells. Andy remained in Eugene for a while after learning all he could from Steve, but once again the urge for a change in landscape hit him–Bozeman was the next stop on the luthier’s journey.

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Concert Ukulele – Red Spruce & Mahogany

The aspects of Bozeman (and Montana in general) that appeal to Armstrong the most are the state’s laid back mountain lifestyle, and the “natural wonder in every direction.” Like a lot of Bozemanites, Andy enjoys being out in nature–whether that manifests itself in the form of hiking, camping, fishing, mushroom hunting, rafting, or snowboarding, he just appreciates having nature right outside his backdoor. The scenery of Montana and the local craftsmanship found in Bozeman is what really inspired Armstrong to hone his skills as a luthier. Armstrong mentioned that the opportunities that he found shadowing other luthiers is what made him want to stay in Bozeman, and he also stated that the presence of the Gibson factory also seems to resonate within the music community–lending passion to the musicians and artists striving to bring quality music and instruments to Montana.

After moving to Bozeman, Andy began looking into possible shops and luthiers that he could apprentice with and learn more about crafting instruments. He came across Kevin Kopp, a local luthier, and decided it wouldn’t hurt to shoot him an email. After sending that first email, Andy said it was a “hard no” from Kopp, but that wouldn’t stop him. After checking out the rest of the luthiers in the area, Andy persevered, restlessly sending emails and contacting Kopp until he landed himself a tour of Kopp’s workplace. After seeing the shop, Andy could only dream about building guitars in this very place, but there wasn’t any work for him, at least not luthier work; while Kopp didn’t need any help around the shop, he did need help designing a website. Maybe it wasn’t building guitars, but it was a way in the door for Andy and he quickly offered his assistance in exchange for some insight into Kopp’s building process.

After building a website, Armstrong then began building guitars alongside Kopp. Originally inspired by repairs, Andy expanded his craft into building guitars: “I couldn’t afford a handcrafted guitar, so I wanted to try building one.” Armstrong credited Steve Holst and Kevin Kopp for guiding him as he learned to build guitars and ukuleles, as well as some books and tutorials on instrument building.

It took some time, but eventually Andy started crafting instruments he was proud to play. Andy began building under the name of Pirate Guitars in 2016 and his style primarily relies on traditional shapes, including the L-00, L-1, OM, Slope D, and Dreadnaught. Andy draws a lot of inspiration from art, old guitars, the materials he uses, and what type of music the instrument will eventually play. As a musician myself, when I actually got the chance to play one of Andy’s guitars, I was thoroughly impressed with the quality and tone–these aren’t the campfire guitars you don’t mind getting wet during a camping trip.

Armstrong says he currently builds about 10 instruments a year, including 5 guitars and 5 ukuleles and he mentioned that he likes to use, if possible, Engelmann Spruce that is often hand-cut by his colleague in the local forests. Armstrong also prefers to use locally made tuners by Waverly Tuners out of Bozeman. Andy’s guitars are born of Bozeman, both crafted and sourced, and there’s something to be said of this process in an age of overseas-mass-produced instruments.

When it comes to customers, Andy mentioned that most of his guitars are custom orders, with a smaller portion being sold to local shops. When he began building in Bozeman, he would work his day job from 4:30am-12:00pm, and then head to the shop from around 1pm-6pm, working long hours so he could pursue the passion he has as a luthier. Andy still works approximately 12 hours on weekdays, and 8 hours during the weekend.

Although Andy says the hand-built market is competitive, he is slowly making a name for himself. While he humbly admits that “[he’s] still starting,” you wouldn’t have any indication of his supposed fledgling skills by looking at (or playing) his guitars and ukuleles. Armstrong mentioned that Bozeman is a great place for “make-your-own” type opportunities, showing the level of support that Bozeman has for locally owned businesses.

When asked about local Montana luthiers that Andy looks up to, he mentioned Kevin Kopp, Bruce Weber, founder of Weber mandolins, and Dan Roberts. While it may seem like a small community, there is a wealth of luthiers in Montana looking to hone their craft and produce quality, handmade instruments–you just have to know where to look.

When asked who he’d like to see playing a Pirate Guitar, he said Billy Strings, Molly Tuttle, or Nick Perri. “I’d love to just give them a guitar and have them rip on it for a couple years just to see what they could do with it,” and maybe he’ll get the chance to do just that.

Looking forward, Armstrong has plans for several new designs, including torrefied wood, a possible 3/4 parlor guitar, as well as some new ukulele designs. Be sure to watch out for his guitars and ukuleles, and follow on Instagram. Contact Pirate Guitars by phone at (507) 206-1044 or email at pirateluthier@gmail.com

http://www.pirate-guitar.com

Andy plays the RJ – Sitka Spruce & Mahogany