Once I overcame the annoyance of constantly avoiding other bikers, the Tour de Farms was extremely enjoyable. Saturday morning I rode 25 miles with dozens of other Durango locals to tour small farms in the Animas Valley (David was going to join me but he decided to go get 6th place at the Silverton Alpine 50k instead, without training I should add). The annual event is hosted and coordinated by The Garden Project of Southwest Colorado and the Colorado State University Extension.
We joined up at the Smiley Building at 7:30am this morning. I love the Smiley Building for many reasons. First of all, it is an old junior high school that was renovated to hold the offices of most of the town’s sustainability programs (dance classes, health programs, environmental programs, etc.). This would explain why it’s called the “Smiley” Building – these things make people smile – but in reality, Smiley was the former superintendent’s last name! Whatdoyaknow.
Anyways. After registration we left in the cold morning, shaded by the mountains to the east. We headed north to our first stop: the Twin Buttes Gardens at the Carver Farm. Oh man. As if I needed another reason to love this Brewery. In the past two months David and I have tried each of the five breweries in Durango. The first remains our solid favorite. The Carver Brewing Company has great beer, great food, and they sell cheap growlers. Today I found out they also have their own farm! I’m in love. Furthermore, their farm is run by the Twin Buttes folks who sell a lot of produce to the restaurant I worked at, Seasons Rotisserie and Grille – also awesome.
After a quick 20 minute tour we got back on the road, still wearing our trusty gloves and jackets. Next stop: Adobe House Farm. The Adobe House Farm is actually multiple farms scattered all over Durango. In an effort to be close to downtown the owners of the business rent and borrow land from many different people, an experience owner Linley said is growing tiresome. She voiced hope that they would soon find a permanent spot for the operation. The location we toured is home to their huge tomato greenhouse. In our short tour I learned a lot I didn’t know about greenhouse growing:
- Roly-poly’s are pests! Apparently they love to live in compost and eat tomato plants from the inside out.
- Two layer greenhouse insulation is not very effective. Neither, in fact, is active heating. Linley swears by passive heating with stacked greenhouses. Her tomato house was like a Russian Doll – One big greenhouse with two small greenhouses inside it, each holding a third even smaller greenhouse. With this system she is able to start tomatoes in February!
- Filling your greenhouse with hundreds of water filled milk jugs will keep your plants warm through the night. Water absorbs and holds on to heat, slowly releasing it as the night cools. Heat = happy tomatoes.
When we took off from the Adobe House Farm the sun was breaching the mountains to our east. Suddenly, it was scorching hot out (typical of the west, apparently). We stripped of our warm layers and took off up the highway to the famous James Ranch. The James Ranch is an old ranching operation just north of Durango. When the original owners of the ranch had grown children they gently and lovingly pushed them out the door. Years later, their kids came back knocking asking to be a part of the ranch again. The deal was, the kids could move back to the land as long as they brought their own profitable operation with them. The resulting operations include – a hot food bar, dairy production, vegetable and flower production, and tree production. We got a tour of The Gardens at James Ranch run by daughter Jenn and her husband Joe.
** I also got to say “hi” to an old friend of mine – my college farm friend Claire! I had no idea until very recently that she’s an apprentice there! Small world.
The last production farm we visited was truly impressive. I’ve seen the 550 Farms at the Farmer’s Market and I never would have guessed that most of their product is produced entirely by one person (he claims he’s gotten around only 100 hours of extra help this season from friends). What Tom created and continues to shape every day is incredible. He leases a beautiful property near town and produces veggies on a perfectly manicured two acres of land. In addition to the astounding amount of veggies he produces (by himself), Tom takes care of two horses, his landlord’s hayfields, and several pigs. To say I was impressed is really an understatement.
On our way back to town we stopped at the houses of two of the Tour de Farms attendees to check out their impressive homesteads and gardens. The community in Durango is truly dedicated to sustainable agriculture and responsible living and it was a serious treat to see it all up close! From the many personal farm tours I gained a deep appreciation of the difficulties of farming in this area, the benefits, and the strength of the farming community. A big thanks to the Garden Project of Southwest Colorado and the Colorado State University Extension for holding this event every year! I’m really glad I attended.
If you have any event like this in your community I seriously urge you to attend it. If not, I suggest emailing local farmers in your area for short 15 to 20 min. tours of their operations. Or, if you’ve got loads of time on your hands, create an event like this! Build relationships with your local agricultural community – you’ll learn a lot and come to appreciate their work so much more. As they say: Get to know your farmer!