Here in Colorado, we are not terribly far removed from a time when what people ate was primarily grown within a very short drive from their home.
Today, much of what we eat finds its origins much further away. Even foods produced locally can travel hundreds if not thousands of miles to be processed and packaged before arriving at your grocery store.
Some items take months to reach the shelf. For Brett Beardmore and Forrest Carlson, co-founders of Fort Collins’ newest Community Supported Agriculture operation (CSA) this kind of food system doesn’t make much sense.
Owltree Farm, which they named for the Great Horned Owl that can be regularly seen cruising the property is how they intend to change how local residents think about and procure their food.
In a CSA, members purchase shares at the beginning of the season. This helps the farmers to purchase materials necessary to maintain and work their farms. In exchange, members receive a regularly delivered share of whatever the farm produces, sharing in its bounty as well as its risks. In Fort Collins there are roughly a dozen active operations, selling to private consumers and local restaurants. Among other things, Beardmore believes this kind of relationship between farmer and consumer creates a stronger connection between people and their food.
“We place a big value in getting people closer to their food,” Beardmore says of their practice. “Just making them aware of where it comes from and how much work goes into it.”
While being able to see the farm and meet the people who grow your food may be enough for some, the community wide benefits to CSA participation are more complex and far reaching than that. Simply reducing the miles a product travels before it arrives at its final destination can greatly reduce its environmental impact. It also means the food is fresher, having spent less time between picking and plating.
That is a difference you can taste. Fresher food also boasts a higher nutrient content, a product of having less time for the nutrients to break down before consumption. “We’re going for a much more diversified model over the whole farm than most farms around here,” Carlson says of their innovative farming practices. Something he hopes will help to set them apart from others in the market.
Many CSAs also use organic and regenerative farming practices. Avoiding pesticides and choosing practices that promote soil quality not only reduces the farms own environmental impact but ensures the plants grown have access to more nutrients from the soil. For the young farmers of Owltree Farm this means incorporating chickens and ducks into their operation. The birds, in addition to providing fertilizer, meat, and eggs, help to control pest insects. Compost topsoil is used for their growing beds to avoid disturbing the native soil and help reduce erosion and friends cows are brought in to graze and fertilize acreage that isn’t being actively used for farming. Regular weeding is still the best way to avoid the use of chemical herbicides, but they don’t seem to mind the work.
“There are other ways to farm,” Beardmore admits, “but those are conventional and we’re trying to stay away from that.”
The market demand for more operations such as theirs in Fort Collins was evident to the pair when they made the decision to pursue this dream, in spite of its roadblocks and risks. While they may not be likely to get rich in this business, they do think they can provide people with a better product than is likely to be found elsewhere. Beardmore, who also works at a local grocer has seen the demand for Colorado products firsthand and while the number of stomachs they can personally fill may never rival that of a grocery store, one more CSA can help to chip away at the amount of food Fort Collins residents receive from far away and is another notch of growth in the trend of doing so.
Owltree Farm had its trial run last year, and while a late freeze did some damage to their fruit tree’s available harvest, they’re confident that they’ve fine tuned their processes and setup for success in their first year with members. While the operation is relatively small right now, they’ve got their eyes set on the future. Creating more diversity in what they plant and offer, maybe raising hogs, adding more greenhouse space, and scaling up their operation to support more membership.
“We want to feed the masses,” Beardmore says of their plans for the farm, noting that their labor intensive methods create a premium product, “we still want to make it accessible but sometimes it can cost a little bit more.”
Additionally the pair hope to create more community around their farm. Welcoming members and non alike to come visit on any given Saturday, they hope to help educate people about regenerative farming practices and eventually host farm-fresh community dinners, incorporating local chefs and other local producers to create an entirely locally sourced meal. Their passion for farming, food, and community are crystal clear and taking root with every plant.
“It’s the experience of it,” Carlson says, beaming, “talking to your farmer and seeing the garden, you can hang out and be a part of it. You don’t get that even at a farmers market, definitely not a grocery store.”