It’s Easy Being Green

19 Jun 2023

Unearth the secrets of organic farming

By Dell Bleekman

On organic farms throughout Boulder County, honeybees mine flowers for nectar, while billions of soil microbes break down crop residues and stimulate plant growth. Welcome to the world of organic farming and the industrious farmers who bring fresh food, vegetables and herbs to tables and restaurants in Boulder and beyond. What makes these farms flourish?

An Unhealthy Cycle

Many large commercial enterprises engage in monoculture farming, or growing a single crop. Unfortunately, this can contribute to a decline in soil health by depleting nutrients, which compels farmers to rely on chemical fertilizers. Pesticides and herbicides are often used because nutrient-poor soil is more vulnerable to pests and weeds. Organic farms strive to break this unhealthy cycle.

The Organic Approach

Organic farmers adopt a different methodology, using manure and compost to fertilize the soil. They might also utilize insects or traps to keep out unwanted bugs. Crops are then rotated to keep the soil healthy, and workers pull weeds.

Erin Dreistadt and her husband Jason Dreistadt run Aspen Moon Farm. Opened in 2009 and certified organic since 2011, Aspen Moon comprises 99 acres, with 25 acres dedicated to food production. “We pride ourselves on being organic,” Erin said. “We feel it’s good for the soil and for the community.” Indeed, Aspen Moon takes organic up a notch. They also practice biodynamics, a holistic, ecological and ethical approach to organic farming that views each farm as a whole, living organism and prioritizes biodiversity.

The farm subscribes to The Real Organic Project, a national organization started by farmers to protect the meaning of the word “organic.” For the Dreistadts and Aspen Moon Farm, it makes sense: “A lot of people want soil-grown vegetables, and it’s because Mother Nature is still mysterious—there’s a lot happening we don’t know about that creates the most nutritious, vibrant and flavorful produce,” said Erin. So, what’s a great way to get access to all this organic food? Join a CSA.

The Boons of CSA

Community supported agriculture (CSA) gets fresh produce to consumers, improves regional food security and reduces fossil fuel emissions. In the CSA model, community members purchase shares of a farm’s yield at the beginning of the growing season, giving farmers much-needed income and stability against uncertainties like unpredictable weather or crop failure. It also provides members with a front-row seat to the growing process and access to the freshest produce. 

John Martin and Kayann Short own and operate Stonebridge Farm, an 11-acre organic farm north of Boulder. Founded in 1992, Stonebridge has the distinction of being Colorado’s oldest continually operating CSA. Part of that success is rooted in simplicity—growing, harvesting and sharing with members. “We follow an old CSA model where, in the barn, we display what we’ve grown and people choose their share of the crop,” Martin said. What do members receive? “In the spring we do extremely well with greens, growing spinach, kale and chard,” he stated. Later in the season members receive peppers, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini and more. Summing up a farmer’s life, Martin said, “What I love growing is what our members like to eat!” 

Partnering with the County

In 2013 Kilt Farm was born with a half-acre and a small CSA. Back then, owner Michael Moss just knew he wanted to grow really good food. Today, he leases 80 acres of Boulder County Open Space. “We cultivate 12 acres for food production and are working on getting additional ground ready for small grains,” he said. “It’s been tough but rewarding.” 

Moss’s journey began with Boulder County Extension programs designed to help new farmers. From there, he qualified for loans with the Farm Service Agency, a federal agency that helps farmers start or expand their farming operations. The lynchpin was access to land, which is where Open Space came in. “Lots of our food comes from far away,” Moss explained. “We’ve got all this land, so the county thought let’s work with farmers.” Moss works intimately with Boulder County Open Space. “They are very supportive of farmers leasing their lands,” he said.

Farm to Table, Truly

While a CSA connects the community to local food, Lenny and Sara Martinelli take a different approach with their farm. Of course, Three Leaf Farm has a produce operation, but it’s also an education center and a destination for farm dinners. “We grow on about three and a half acres,” Lenny said. “For a small farm it works well for us.” It works because most of the food grown is used for Martinelli’s group of restaurants. That way Martinelli’s establishments, including Leaf, Boulder Dushanbe Teahouse, Chautauqua Dining Hall and others are guaranteed the freshest herbs and produce. That’s also the case for farm dinners that Lenny himself supervises. “I understand intimately what’s on the farm at any time—when it’s coming in and how to incorporate it into a meal.”

Growing, and Giving Back

The Lyons Farmette, predictably, is tiny by farm standards. But this little farm is a dynamo. In addition to a small vegetable harvest, the Farmette grows flowers. “Over the years it’s become more of a flower farm,” said owner Betsy Burton. “We’ll grow more than 500 different varieties.” 

Floral arrangements come in handy for the many events taking place at the Lyons farm. “We’ve got weddings on weekends and farm dinners throughout the summer,” stated Burton. It’s the dinners that make the Farmette unique: Proceeds from beer and wine sales at each dinner go to a different Boulder County nonprofit organization. “Last year, we hosted events that raised more than $100,000 for Boulder County nonprofits,” said Burton. Agricultural organizations, such as Mad Agriculture and Zero Foodprint, and arts groups like the Boulder County Arts Alliance are just a few recent recipients. “It’s our business model,” Burton said, “and we’re proud of that.”

A Regenerative Future

While Boulder County organic farmers face challenges such as weather, labor shortages and climate change, they’re proving organic practices are the future. Play a part: Join a CSA. Check out the local farmer’s market. Make a date for a farm dinner. Head down that local produce aisle in the grocery store. You—and your stomach—will be glad you did.

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