As we’ve discussed previously, Quiet Farm is located in the “fruit basket” of Colorado. The Western Slope produces Colorado’s revered Palisade peaches, along with apples, cherries, plums, apricots, table grapes and wine grapes. Fruit grows so well here because the climate doesn’t experience the significant diurnal swings common on the Front Range. (In February 2018, the temperature in Denver dropped 72 degrees in forty hours.) Fruit trees, especially once they’re in flower, cannot survive extreme temperature shifts, so harvesting fruit on the Front Range is hit-or-miss. It’s hit-or-miss over here, too, as all farming is, but with a lot more hits than misses.
Last year – our first year as official Western Slope residents – we ate ourselves silly on local peaches, plums, cherries and apples. The apricots, though, were lost to a late spring freeze, so while a few orchards had a very small amount of fruit to sell, it wasn’t widely available and we missed out entirely. This year, between our record snowfall and ideal spring weather, the fruit growers in our area have a bumper crop of just about everything, with apricots no exception. We’re even seeing wild apricot trees, heavy with fruit, growing on roadsides around us. It’s been a banner year.
A few weeks ago, we went up to our friend Bob’s farm to pick apricots. Bob and his partner Linda have a gorgeous six-acre orchard perched on a mesa just above town; in addition to apricots, he grows several varieties of peaches, table grapes and wine grapes.
It’s easy to see what land is irrigated and what isn’t in a high-plains desert.
In order to legally use the word “organic” in the U.S., your farm (or ranch, or orchard, or winery, or whatever) must be officially certified by a USDA-approved certifying agency. The process is lengthy and complex and costly and typically out of reach for small farms, who often still use organic practices but can’t claim as much on their labels. There also simply aren’t enough inspectors to go around, especially as the number of small-scale farms (those under 100 acres in production) continues to grow. As a result, organizations like Certified Naturally Grown have stepped in to fill this gap. Certified Naturally Grown is a compelling agriculture program that offers an alternative (or in some cases, a complement) to organic certification.
CNG is unique in that it requires peer reviews for certification, and its certification process is entirely transparent and available to the public. Peer review means that inspections are carried out by other nearby CNG farmers, keeping costs and paperwork at a minimum, and providing a self-regulating system (you can’t trade inspection for inspection, and who really wants to be called out for cheating by one of their colleagues?). Essentially, CNG producers are beyond organic, using no synthetic herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers or GMOs. Livestock are raised primarily on pasture and with freedom of movement, and feed must be grown without synthetic inputs or GMOs.
I-Guana Farm has been Certified Naturally Grown since 2011. Bob is most proud that “the farm is totally solar, feeding into the grid. We strive to put minimal organic inputs from off the farm, recycling most cuttings and unused fruit.” I-Guana also utilizes microsprinklers and drip irrigation, which helps conserve our precious Western Slope water.
Pitted apricots ready to be dried.
We harvested about twenty pounds of apricots on this first trip; our harvest was evenly split between the dehydrator and the freezer. Although ripe apricots are delicious eaten fresh, their perfect ripeness window is short and they don’t travel well, meaning it’s tough to find good specimens in the supermarket. My dehydrated apricots don’t have the bright orange color so common in commercial versions, because I didn’t treat them with sulfur dioxide to maintain the color. Sulfites are used in many foods to prevent oxidation and extend shelf life, but they’re not allowed in organic production. (And if you’re worried about sulfites in wine, just know that commercial dried fruit has substantially more sulfites than wine. Also, sulfites don’t cause “red wine headaches.” Excessive quantities of red wine cause red wine headaches.)
Later on this fall, when it’s cool enough to use the oven again, I plan to roast some of the frozen apricots with thyme and black pepper to make a savory compote for serving with cheese. I’ll slice them and stir them into oatmeal; they’ll also be perfect baked into a crostata, and ideal for jam, too. Having a freezer and pantry stocked with local fruit means that our long winter won’t be quite so grim.
When you’re buying food – especially if you’re buying it directly from the producer – ask relevant questions. “Is this organic?” might not tell the whole story, and when you speak to farmers directly, you learn that there are other ways to do things correctly rather than just slapping an expensive government label on the product. Also remember that “organic” doesn’t necessarily equate to “healthy” or “local,” and it also doesn’t mean “no chemicals” – it just means that approved chemicals were used. Do your research, and don’t be swayed by marketing jargon. Organic donuts are still donuts.
Our thanks to Bob and Linda for growing such delicious fruit and letting us photograph your beautiful farm! As always, we’re so proud to be part of this agricultural community.