Left Hand Valley Courier - All Local, All The Time

Local farmers pioneer future of food


December 4, 2019

Courtesy Photo

Aspen Moon farmer's market stand

Marcus McCauley is the owner of a 40 acre diversified organic farm in Longmont. If you take a farm tour, McCauley will start by asking you an important question: what modern food crops are native to this region?

The answer is none. "Perhaps raspberries," McCauley added.

But McCauley noticed that there is one plant that is abundant in Colorado--grass. "How do you feed people from grass?" he asked. The answer is to use a ruminant. Or a pig or a chicken. Which is why McCauley raises all three.

"It's obvious that they need grass," said McCauley, "but it's not as obvious that grass needs them." The cornerstone of McCauley's operation is using animals to regenerate depleted pasture, including a denuded parcel that the City of Boulder has placed in his care.

McCauley also is experimenting with perennial food crops. "It's asking a lot of the land to give us annuals year after year," he said. Annuals are relatively rare in nature and require more resources than perennial plant systems. McCauley is experimenting with drought resistant perennials, including mulberries, siberian pea shrubs and a perennial wheat called Kernza.

And yet, most all of our food crops are annuals. How do our local farmers manage?

For Aspen Moon Farm, it's all about fertility. This farm is certified organic, but also biodynamic. "It's another layer of regenerative agriculture," explained co-owner Erin Dreistadt. "One big aspect is we work really hard to create all our own fertility on the farm."

Fertile soil produces nutrient dense vegetables, which is an important part of Dreistadt's mission. But another piece is helping customers eat with the seasons. At this time of year, Dreistadt's advice is, "Stock up on root vegetables." Trim off the greens and excess roots, store them in a plastic bag in the fridge, and get used to vegetables that "look a little different."

But vegetables aren't the only crop you'll find there. "There is quite a movement now in heritage grains in the area, and it's because there is a lot of belief around digestibility of wheat, and that heirloom heritage grains are more digestible," said Dreistadt. Heirloom popcorn, cornmeal, and heritage wheats make excellent holiday gifts.

But no matter how prepared farmers are, every year is different. "This past growing season was not a fantastic one for warm summer crops," said Anne Cure, owner of Cure Organic Farm. A late summer and an early freeze meant smaller root crops and lower yields of heat-loving crops like peppers, tomatoes, and melons. Cure is adapting by growing more greens than usual in her hoop houses.

Her newest experiment is growing micro-greens year round. And though the farm store will close in mid-December, Cure supplies local restaurants year-round. You can enjoy Cure Farm produce at Rosetta Hall, The Kitchen, Frasca, Flagstaff House, Pizzeria Locale, Acreage, and several restaurants in Denver.

Cure has also diversified by bringing an educational component to her farm, helping visitors understand "how and why local farms are important and what ecosystems look like." Cure encourages people to think of her farm for group tours, volunteer opportunities, and team building exercises, especially come spring.

The work of farming is seasonal, but the work doesn't end when the farmer's market closes down. "Farming is also running a business," Dreistadt said, "so winter is for hiring, creating positions, doing all our organic certification paperwork, and planning the whole farm for the next season."

So how can we support our local farms over winter? For some, including McCauley Family Farms, the Winter Farmer's Market will be the last opportunity to sell goods for the year. Look for their ferments and pickles at the market; these non-perishable goods make excellent holiday gifts.

The Cure Farm farmstand will remain open through mid-December as long as the temperature is above 40 degrees. If you are looking for some alternative holiday gifts, Cure Farm is selling Rambouillet sheep skins as well as bundles of pasture raised pork and beef. It also offers a farm stand card that is essentially a gift card; it entitles the owner to a 10% discount on all products, March through December. Products include vegetables, chicken eggs, duck eggs, honey, meat, and fruit from the Western slope.

Aspen Moon will also continue to open its farm stand as weather permits. Getting on their email list is a wonderful way to keep track of open hours.

And finally, think about investing in a CSA--Community Supported Agriculture. Buying a share entitles you to a portion of farm products weekly or bi-weekly through the growing season. The up-front income helps farmers prepare for the year. Most local farm CSA registrations will open too late to give them as a holiday gift, but look for them come mid-January.

And in the meantime, pay our local farmers a visit at the Winter Market. The market will run from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. at the Boulder County Fairgrounds on Dec. 7 and 8.


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