The Farm Series: I-Guana Farm

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.

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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.

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The Farm Series: Western Culture

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Now that we actually have a farm, we can get a bit more serious about researching where we’ll obtain our animals. We plan to raise dairy goats and laying hens, with the intention of producing enough milk, cheese and eggs to supply our own kitchen as well as our cooking school. Because healthy animals produce healthy food, it’s essential that we know exactly where our animals come from.

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We still have a lot of work to do on both our chicken house and our goat barn to get them ready for animals, and we don’t plan to purchase any until next spring. We want to make our reservations now, however, so that when we’re ready we’ve got animals waiting for us. Small dairies especially need to know in advance how many animals they can sell during a given season so they can plan their breeding program.

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The Farm Series: Fritchman Orchards

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It’s August, and it’s punishingly hot, but at least we’ve got peaches. This week we went up to Fritchman Orchards to watch a bit of the peach harvest. As always, it’s humbling to observe just how much work goes into producing the fruits and vegetables we take for granted. At this time of year, harvest starts around six in the morning, so that the majority of the work can be done before the temperature tops 90 degrees.

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Experienced pickers harvest peaches by color.

When we tell people on the Front Range that we’re moving to the Western Slope, they invariably ask about peaches. Specifically, they ask about Palisade peaches. And this is not designed to malign Palisade peaches – because they’re spectacular, of course! – but to introduce the concept of branding, and how it can perhaps to be used to confuse a situation, especially when it comes to local food.

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The Farm Series: Desert Weyr

Of late, our Western Slope farm visits have taken us to pick delicious cherries and to meet happy pigs. How about we introduce you to some unusual sheep?

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Desert Weyr is perched high on a mesa above the town of Paonia.

In the late 1990s, Eugenie “Oogie” McGuire decided she wanted to craft herself a traditional medieval cloak – from scratch. It would be made from wool, of course. She purchased one ram, five ewes and a loom, taught herself how to spin, weave and sew, and eventually made the cloak. As she says, “It’s more accurate for the 18th century. It took me six years to weave the fabric, two more to get up the courage to cut it, and two weeks to hand-sew it.” But what commitment! Now, Oogie and her husband, Ken, raise a large flock of Black Welsh Mountain sheep on pasture above Paonia.

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The Farm Series: Colorado Pastured Pork

We’ve (sort of) relocated to the Western Slope, and we’re focused on meeting as many local farmers as possible. If we truly intend to start Quiet Farm here, and if we intend for it to grow into a thriving business, building a strong local producer network will be key to our success. To that end, when we’re not driving around looking for property, we’re visiting farms and ranches who practice the same sort of farming we plan to embrace.

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The Western Slope – specifically Delta County, where we’re currently based – has a long history of agriculture, but most of those ag products were shipped to population centers in Denver (to the east) and Salt Lake City (to the west). Now, with “local food” and “agritourism” evolving as valid ways for poorer counties to earn revenue, there is a movement afoot to encourage small farmers and other sustainable, innovative producers to make their mark here. Surprisingly, Delta County has more acres of organic farmland than any other county in Colorado (I know, we thought it was the Kingdom of Boulder, too).

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The Farm Series: Rebel Farm

Friends, we don’t want you to think that all we do is trek around wintry European countries, eating schnitzel and drinking wine. No, sometimes we also visit delightful urban hydroponic farms and we eat handfuls of just-harvested fresh greens. Balance. It’s all about balance.rebel-farm-01-sml.jpg

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Rebel Farm, run by Jake and Lauren, is a 15,000 square-foot hydroponic greenhouse on the border of Denver and Lakewood. For those readers who live in Colorado, you may well wonder how these fine folks can afford to grow lettuce, rather than weed, considering that just about every greenhouse in the state has been snatched up by the marijuana industry. In the case of Rebel Farm, however, the greenhouse is perfectly situated between two schools – which means it cannot be a grow operation, and instead it can grow food. Brilliant.

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Purple kohlrabi, sadly underappreciated by CSA members everywhere.

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Tangy, citrusy red sorrel.

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If you’re not familiar with hydroponics, don’t feel alone. In its simplest form, hydroponics is a method of growing plants without soil. The plants can be planted in gravel, sand or other inert materials, or their roots can be suspended in a nutrient-rich water mixture. There are lots of different ways to grow hydroponically; Rebel Farm uses the NFT, or nutrient film technique, method.

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The Farm Series: Grassward Dairy

Well, hello there. We’re at this moment in Oregon, volunteering on farms and trying to determine if Quiet Farm wants to be born in this place. We planned to spend a month on one particular small goat dairy, but as we know from previous adventures, travel plans don’t always work out exactly as envisioned. So we ended up living in a vintage trailer (oh, the memories) for ten days here at Grassward Dairy, a micro-creamery just outside of a college town we know and love (go Beavs!).

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The farmers have to cross a road twice a day to move the cows for milking.

We’ve now worked and/or volunteered on more than half a dozen farms around the world, and every single one is different. Grassward Dairy sits on about one hundred rolling acres along Mary’s River in the southern stretch of the Willamette Valley; in addition to the three milking cows, there are ducks, laying hens, beef cattle, sheep, a donkey, a llama and a rambunctious cattle dog-in-training.

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Harold, on the left, and Hazelita are being raised for meat. Hand-feeding them collards and chard was one of the highlights of our time here.

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Cows on their way to the barn for the evening milking.

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It doesn’t always rain in Oregon.

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We cleaned out the tomato and pepper plants from this 100-foot hoop house, then prepped and reseeded the beds with winter greens.

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The guard llama and her flock.

Every farm is unique, and every farm’s business model is unique, too. Grassward Dairy offers a dairy CSA, which means that customers pay a fixed price each month in exchange for fresh raw milk, yogurt, cheese, butter and cream. In this agricultural part of Oregon, it’s easy to eat local just about all year.

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Terry the rooster, with one of his ladies. Muscovy ducks and Florencia the guard donkey can be seen in the background.

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Hattie, looking regal and proud.

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Disking one of the pastures in preparation for cover cropping. While we were there, heavy rains swelled the river and flooded this pasture, among others.

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The evening milking.

The more time we spend on farms, the more we know this is the right path for us. Many thanks to the team at Grassward Dairy for letting us be part of their farm family for a short time. And if you’re in the area, you can stay there too!

 

 

The Farm Series: Mountain Flower Goat Dairy

Part of our grand plan this summer, our transitional period between our round-the-world trip and our journey to find Quiet Farm, is to visit and volunteer on as many farms as possible. As we’ve said before, we can learn something from every single farm.

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We’ve volunteered on vegetable farms (both cold and warm) before, but because we’re virtually certain we’ll have goats, for meat and milk, on Quiet Farm, we wanted to spend some time with these lovely creatures this summer. And that brought us here, to Mountain Flower Goat Dairy in Boulder. Mountain Flower is a non-profit committed to a few different key goals that we respect wholeheartedly: community engagement and education, sustainable agriculture and humane animal husbandry, and land conservation. All of these are tenets we plan to incorporate into Quiet Farm.

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Smart, inquisitive, affectionate and productive…goats are popular for good reason.

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Mountain Flower Goat Dairy is a raw-milk goat dairy, the only one within the city limits of the Kingdom of Boulder. There is a lot of controversy surrounding raw milk; the sale of it is illegal in most states and dairies must often sell “herd shares” in order to operate legally. It’s important to familiarize yourself with both the pros and the cons before forming your own opinion on raw milk. In MFGD’s own words:

“The primary focus at Mountain Flower Goat Dairy is to provide a supply of the most gorgeous, clean, healthy goat milk possible while demonstrating to the public a working urban farm. We are the only dairy in the Boulder city limits and we are delighted to fill this food void for our community. We allow the public the opportunity to own a portion of our herd and thereby gain access to raw milk.

A spirited debate exists over whether raw milk should be made available to the general public or not. Raw milk advocates have an uphill battle to shatter paradigms that remain from a time when little was known about microbiology and modern refrigeration did not exist. We believe it comes down to a person’s right to choose what food to put into their own bodies. We make a point to keep informed on and involved in the issues related to raw milk. We encourage you to do the same.

We do what feels right to us. That is to raise goats the way nature intended eating grass and alfalfa, grazing in the fields, playing with each other, being loved by humans and eating organic grains. We milk our goats in a low-stress environment and treat their milk with the utmost care, cleanliness and respect.”

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Relocating to greener pastures.

Mountain Flower keeps about thirteen adult does on hand for milking at any given time. They breed most of these does every year and either keep the young to expand their own herd, or sell the kids to families or farms who will uphold their high standards. Some of the kids are eventually used as pack animals, or family pets, or for meat.

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Up you go, darling.

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Cleanliness is of paramount importance in any dairy operation.

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Small goat dairies may still milk by hand…

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…but milking by machine is much quicker and more efficient.

Dairy goats are milked twice per day; the amount of milk they produce varies wildly based on grazing availability, season, breed, weather and other factors. While it’s now common to find goat cheese in grocery stores and on restaurant menus, goat (and its related value-added products) have only been well-known in the U.S. for about forty years or so. Despite being the world’s most commonly-consumed meat, goats are a relatively recent introduction to American palates. Goat milk, yogurt and cheese are now easy to market, but goat meat is still a hard sell – and the honest truth of any dairy operation, no matter the animal, is that approximately fifty percent of the babies born will be male. That logically means slaughter for meat, a reality that we’ll fully accept on Quiet Farm.

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Pensive goats in thought, probably about how to escape their grazing pasture.

What we learned during our summer at Mountain Flower is that these are truly incredible animals. They are passionate and irascible and difficult and gorgeous and moody and infuriating and loving – just like humans. We learned that they remember you and your weirdly soft yet nubbly leather gloves and that there are few things more comforting than a doe leaning up against you for an aggressively affectionate scruffle. We acknowledge that the realities of raising livestock mean that they will eventually (hopefully) grace our table, and that we’ll be even more thankful for the gifts they’ve given us. We learned that we want these animals in our lives and on our farm.

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Fresh goat milk is truly amazing. Oh, and it makes incredible cheese, butter and yogurt.

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Ready for customers.

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The definition of “free range.”

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What’s going on over here?

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Come on! Who doesn’t want to cuddle that sweet face?

Know thy food, and know thy farmer. The more we learn about these animals (and farming in general), the more we want to know. Quiet Farm, here we come.

P.S. A huge thank-you to the wonderful team at Mountain Flower Goat Dairy for hosting us this summer. Catherine and Dennis, thank you for sharing your land. Michael, Maddie, Kallie and Ryen, thank you for showing us the ropes. Please come see us on Quiet Farm.

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The Farm Series: Chatfield Farms

A couple of weeks ago, N and I spent some time at Denver Botanic Gardens’ Chatfield Farms, so we decided to make this the second post in our Farm Series. We’ve mentioned before that since we plan to buy a farm, we visit farms whenever possible. And we’re not fussy – we’ll visit any kind of farm, whether or not it’s similar to our vision for Quiet Farm, because we believe we can learn something from every single one.

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Chatfield Farms occupies 700 acres along the banks of Deer Creek. It’s a historical site, a native plant restoration area, and a working farm with a 270-family CSA program, plus it includes nature trails and spectacular birdwatching. I’ve been part of the Veterans-to-Farmers program here and taught cooking classes at DBG for years now, and N photographed a friend’s wedding at Chatfield a couple of years ago, but we hadn’t yet had the chance to spend an evening at Chatfield Farms. And what an evening it was.

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We were at the farm to participate in DBG’s annual Colorado Foodways event, which showcases both local food and local farmers. We showed up early with a car loaded down with grilled sweet corn and chiles from Palizzi Farm in Brighton, plus applewood-smoked goat cheese from Haystack Mountain, and we set about making samples for 150 guests.

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But see that dramatic Colorado sky? Oh yes, there was rain. And wind. And more rain, and more wind. And a tent that flipped itself over and very nearly took down all of my carefully prepared food with it. But we persevered, and we ended up having a wonderfully perfect summer night in Colorado. And in times like these, it’s always essential to remember that we may believe we’re fully in control, but nature often has other ideas entirely.

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Blue skies after all!

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What says summer more than fresh, local sweet corn?

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The sugars in sweet corn start turning to starch as soon as it’s picked. Leave the husks on until the very last minute, and eat it as soon as possible!

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Husking one hundred and twenty ears does leave quite a lot for compost.

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Charred green chiles…the scent of late summer and early fall in Colorado.

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Colorado Charred Sweet Corn and Green Chile Salad

 

Ingredients

  • 8 ears fresh Palizzi Farm corn
  • Olive oil, as needed
  • 4 large Palizzi Farm green chiles
  • 1 large red bell pepper
  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch cilantro, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 jalapeno or other hot pepper, minced (optional)
  • Juice and zest from 3-4 limes
  • 1-2 tbsp. white wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. chile powder
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
  • 4 oz. fresh Haystack Mountain goat cheese, crumbled
  

Directions

Preheat a grill or broiler to medium-high heat. Remove the corn husks and rub the ears gently with a paper towel to remove the silks.

Rub six ears of corn lightly with olive oil and place on grill. Cook, turning as needed, until corn kernels are lightly charred. Remove corn from grill and set aside to cool. When corn is cool enough to handle, place one end upright on a cutting board and use a sharp knife to remove kernels. Cut kernels off two remaining raw ears of corn and combine with grilled corn.

Roast the chiles and bell pepper until skins are blackened; place in a glass bowl or container and cover tightly to allow steam to loosen skins. When cool enough to handle, remove skins, stems and seeds; roughly chop chiles and pepper.

Halve the tomatoes, and combine in a large bowl with cilantro and scallions. Add chiles, peppers, raw and grilled corn and hot pepper, if using.

In a small jar, shake together juice, zest, vinegar, chile powder and a pinch of salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad, and taste for seasoning, adjusting as necessary with additional lime juice, vinegar, salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature, garnished with crumbled goat cheese.