Joni Keefe
Special to The Aspen Times

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May 10, 2014
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Farms Finest: Keeping farms alive with new methods and old values

Barns once stood as the proud sentinels of America’s farmland. Slowly, though, they have been disappearing from the landscape, reflecting changes in how our food is being produced. The architectural marvels that were built with hand-pegged beams seem to have no more value now than scrap wood. You could consider them the canaries in the coal mine for a fast-changing food system.

There are fewer privately owned farms every year. Those that remain often exist because the farmland has been passed down through generations of family. Lofty dreams about being a farmer and going into business rarely are able to get beyond the drawing board today. The immediate barrier is the financial investment of the land alone.

We are being reminded that the only thing constant is that change and adjustments will continually have to be made. Food-production methods must find new ways to keep up with an astonishing demand for supply. It is estimated by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations that if the global population reaches 9.1 billion by 2050, the world’s food production has to increase by a staggering 70 percent. Grocery prices are continually increasing, and the phrase “food security” will become a household word if not a political football.

Yet, is increasing industrially produced food the only answer? Not at all; we do have choices between industrial methods and those now-cost-prohibitive, small farming operations of the past.

The obvious and most manageable change is to become more locally sustainable. Each region, or “food shed,” should have several midsize operations that could supply a significant part of their areas’ food needs.

With new technology and greenhouses, we have a greater choice of crops that can be produced in a number of climates. The revenue saved on shipping, freshness and the strengthening of local economies all make a solid business plan. “The change” is in adopting a new concept of regionally strong food supplies and actively supporting it.

Eagle Springs Nursery, in Silt, is an emerging example of a fresh concept. The owner, Ken Sack, has put his hat into the ring for becoming a regional supplier. Sack sold his company, Pharmacy Services Group, in 2004. With newly found time on hand, he made Aspen a second home for what ended up being only a temporary retirement. In 2009, Sack saw the documentary about industrial food called “Food, Inc.,” which set the wheels in motion for building a business that would prescribe health in a new way.

One year later, in 2010, Sack purchased 1,600 acres in Silt, plus a chunk of downtown retail space in nearby Rifle. This in-town location is now the Farm Fresh store and restaurant with a steakhouse opening soon, and that mesa-top acreage has become the multifaceted Eagle Springs Nursery.

They are raising livestock in the pastures and have built a U.S. Department of Agriculture-certified meat- and poultry-processing plant on site. This plant was established in part because the Roaring Fork Valley did not have a local facility. For the region’s farmers and ranchers, the cost of shipping long distances and/or being on long waiting lists can now be eliminated with this local meat-processing facility available.

Organic produce is being grown in a 2-acre greenhouse that is divided into four climate zones. Cutting-edge computer programs maintain precise water, sun and temperature for each crop, providing a near-perfect growing environment.

There are seasonal crop-production fields outside that are watered with a quarter-mile pivot-head irrigation system. This year they will be growing melons and pumpkins as their primary field crops. To add to sustainability methods is the on-site, 1.3-megawatt solar fields for capturing energy. The Farm Fresh Cafe continues to expand by offering the area more facilities and entertainment options.

In the past, every farmer knew it was smart to be sustainable and diversified. Big business and government crop subsidies all helped to change this proven and balanced approach. Eagle Springs is growing in several new directions to build a long-lasting business for our region’s food shed. Innovative small business may be the new big business.

Joni Keefe moved to the Roaring Fork Valley after a career in landscape design. She is passionate about local food and agriculture. For more information, her website is FarmsFinest.com, or follow her on Twitter. Connect at joni@farmsfinest.com.


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The Aspen Times Updated May 10, 2014 06:24PM Published May 11, 2014 10:04PM Copyright 2014 The Aspen Times. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.