Tag Archives: rural preservation

Dancing the 25th Harvest Season

img_9489Yesterday we celebrated Stonebridge Farm’s 25th season as a CSA with a harvest concert and potluck on a gentle September evening. We were joined by favorite local singer/songwriters who have graced our Stonebridge stage: Jenny and Tom Hodgson, Tupelo Honey, and Joe Kuckla, who built the stage for us many years ago. As the sun set over the mountains, we danced and laughed and ate delicious food while the children fished off the wooden bridge and played on the giant swing across the ditch. I’d like to share some of my remarks on this wonderful occasion with my pearlmoonplenty readers:

Here we are at the height of the harvest in our 25th CSA season. “Who could believe it?” as my Grandma Smith would say. John and I certainly didn’t imagine this day when we started out all those years ago.

rakewheelThis land we’re celebrating first became a farm in 1911, a dairy farm with cows pastured in the fields and milked in the big red barn with its haylofts overhead. This land has been stewarded with care by many generations of farmers. Their work brought the farm to us by cultivating it responsibly and by holding onto its agricultural promise rather than selling it for development profit. I feel the generations of farmers behind me when I stand on this stage and look over the land on this fine fall day. From here I can see your faces, too, and I want to thank you all for being with us today and every day on this land.

One of many things that makes Stonebridge special is that we’re continuing to grow farm-friendly generations here. We now have kids going off to college whose parents were members before those children were born. We even have third-generation members—families with grandparents, parents, and young ones all eating Stonebridge vegetables.

And we have our own four-year-old grandson, Collin, who loves coming to visit and takes an active interest in what’s going on here. He even helps us figure out how to solve problems. For example, three Friday nights ago a bear knocked over our beehive to get the honey. When we came out to pick on Saturday morning, we saw the hive in a heap and the angry bees buzzing overhead looking for their home. Our friends Jay and Orion got the hive back together but decided to wait until evening to capture the bees and move the hive to protect it from the bear, who surely would return for the rest of the honey that night.

Around 5:30 in the evening, John and Orion went to get the hive, figuring the bear wouldn’t have come back yet. You can guess what they found: the bear was right there and, when it saw the truck, it ran across the ditch, straight through the water and up the bushy bank. Not only that, when it got to the other side, it stood up on its hind legs and waved its arms as if to say, ‘I’m a BIG bear!” Then it got down on its four feet to run off to the north and we haven’t seen it back yet.

As I told Collin this story, his eyes were wide. He loves animals and animal stories, and he knows a lot about different kinds of animals, so when I got to the end of the tale, I waited for what he would say. He thought a minute before offering a matter-of-fact solution: “You should get a Siberian tiger.”

“Hmmm,” I said.

He thought another minute. “But you couldn’t let the chickens out.”

“That’s true,” I said. “We couldn’t’ let the chickens out.”

He thought another minute. “And you couldn’t go outside either.”

“You’re right. Maybe a tiger isn’t what we need.”

I could see from the serious look on his face, this was a problem he intended to solve.  “I wonder what animal would scare a bear,” he said, “but not scare you.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

Of course, his answer was his favorite animal: “You should get an elephant!”

It’s encouraging to look ahead through the new lives at the farm, but it’s also amazing to look behind. So very many wonderful people have passed through our lives at Stonebridge and, luckily, many of them are still here working with us in the fields, contributing skills to the land and all it holds, and celebrating with us here today.  We may never get an elephant, but we will keep this farm going as long as we are able, and, hopefully, for harvests beyond our time as well. As Jenny sings in “Dance the Seasons,” the beautiful song she wrote for our farm, “We’ll dance the seasons in and out as we cross these fields again.”

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Keeping a Farm a Farm

I spotted one again last week, a subdivision with “farm” in its name. Land that used to grow food is now covered with beige houses. I don’t know whether to take offense at the irony of a housing development named after a farm or take comfort that the name evokes its farming past. Once farmland is developed, it won’t be farmed again. That loss affects all of us, not only in the lack of food raised locally, but in the demise of natural habitats for plants and animals. Harder to measure is the degradation of the human spirit as the natural world vanishes from our collective imagination.

The development pressure in our part of the Front Range is intense. More people moving to the area means more homes, more strip malls, more big box stores, more light industrial, and more businesses to assure jobs for the people who move here. And that kind of growth takes land.

At the same time, farming today is a shaky enterprise at best. Costs are going up, the weather is less predictable, yet the physical labor required to farm is still demanding. I don’t know what the figures are in Boulder County, but farmland along the Hwy 66 corridor where we live is disappearing. Older farmers have counted on selling their land to pay for their retirement and who can blame them? But it’s terrible that farms are rarely sold as farms anymore.

At least in Boulder, the county itself is interested in preserving farms and has purchased thousands of acres as agricultural open space. We disagree with the county over the use of GMO crops on that land, but we are glad the county is far-sighted enough to create a new “rural preservation” designation under which our farm now falls.  That means the land can’t be developed for industrial or commercial purposes, at least for the next 10 years and hopefully beyond.

John and I are still in our fifties and plan to farm for many years to come. But we are starting to take steps to ensure that Stonebridge Farm remains a real farm—not a housing development called “Stonebridge Farm.” We’re working with our local officials to foresee and guarantee options down the road. And we have a grandchild on the way who may—we hope–want to farm some day. Still, we know that we are the ones who have to preserve Stonebridge now if the farm is to survive. It’s sad to think we won’t be here forever, but even sadder would be the loss of this land to asphalt and concrete.

In the meantime, we’re farming. Our amazing crew transplanted 10,000+ baby alliums—leeks and onions the size of a blade of grass—last Saturday. That’s the first big push for the farm.

Over the next two Saturdays, we’ll plant thousands of brassicas—cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower—now hardening off in the cold frame. That’s the second.

The third—tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil–won’t come until June 1st or so when the soil warms and all chance of frost is past. Last week John started the peppers and eggplant in the greenhouse and today we seeded 18 heirloom varieties of tomatoes, including Stonebridge’s favorites—Brandywine and Tiffen Mennonite. As always, we’re trying a couple new varieties, Black Prince to complement Cherokee Purple and Mr. Fumo, a paste tomato that earned raves with Boulder’s culinary gardeners last year.

Every spring for the last 21 years, we’ve started seeds in the greenhouse and transplanted them into the fields. With the help of our wonderful friends, we’ve watered and weeded and waited and harvested. And with the support of a loyal community that understands the importance of local agriculture, we make it through another season.  Preservation requires actions taken each day, one after the other. Only that kind of care and commitment will keep Stonebridge from becoming another subdivision with “farm” in its name.

Newly planted allium field in the shadow of the Two Guides, Longs and Meeker peaks. We think this is worth preserving.

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Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture