Carbondale agritourism ventures strengthen understanding of farming and ranching lifestyles, provide a first-hand perspective | AspenTimes.com
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Carbondale agritourism ventures strengthen understanding of farming and ranching lifestyles, provide a first-hand perspective

Merrill and Pam Johnson hang out with the alpacas in the pasture at Cedar Ridge Ranch near Carbondale.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The first thing you notice is the resounding quiet. Driving a ways up the bendy road from Colorado Highway 82, visiting Cedar Ridge Ranch is like entering a different world — one where you’re just as likely to make eye contact with an alpaca or rooster as you are with another human being.

“We have alpaca hats that come straight from the alpacas,” Pam Johnson, co-owner of Cedar Ridge Ranch said. “So you can go out and kiss the alpacas and then get a hat, and learn about the alpaca.”

Three alpacas look towards the camera for a glamour shot at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The Johnson family — parents Randy and Pam and their only daughter, Merrill — moved from the hustle and bustle of the Chicagoland area over 20 years ago onto Cedar Ridge Ranch and began offering an educational, boutique ranching experience to those who came out to visit. Randy said they’ve had visitors come from not just Denver, but Saudi Arabia, Germany and Portugal, as well.



“It’s really interesting the kinds of people that we do meet here,” (Randy) Johnson, a Vietnam-era veteran and former salesman, said. “And some of the kids go, ‘Mom, the eggs aren’t white!’ you know?”

Garfield County passed an agritourism proposal back in 2013, which enabled the Johnsons to offer even more to their guests. Now, instead of just giving farm tours, horseback riding lessons, alpaca yoga and allowing visitors to collect eggs from the hens on the property, people can spend the night on the ranch in one of the various hospitality setups on the ranch property.



Pam Johnson collects eggs from the chicken coop at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I think agritourism too has this really strong capacity and opportunity to help farmers, because farming is not easy work, and it’s 24/7. … They’re just undervalued,” Merrill Johnson said. “I think agritourism opens up a place where farmers can be valued and seen more than they are today. Agritourism in general allows for the opportunity for other farmers to do something very, very similar and to be able to share what they do so other people can back or support them.”

Morgan Beidlemen was a recent agritourist to the Cedar Ridge Ranch and said she stumbled upon them by Googling ‘glamping in Colorado.’ She said the Johnson’s ranch was a perfect balance of far enough from Denver but still close to other nearby towns, so without an isolating feeling.

“I love horses and I love cows, just kind of walking around and saying ‘hi’ to them. And the alpacas were so curious; I just loved how curious they were,” Beidlemen said. “Being able to get eggs from the chickens and go back down to the yurt and cook eggs you just purchased … having that complete break from work … and (an) immersive experience of being on the ranch and all that it has to offer. … That was really what I was looking for.”

A pair of roosters sit on a doorway at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

She also spoke to the Johnson family’s hospitality and openness to educate folks who had questions about the lifestyle and the workings of the ranch itself.

“Their willingness, you know, to talk about things … talking about having a totally different life before. … Human connection, connection to nature, disconnection from technology and just beautiful (scenery).”

Sarah-Jane Johnson, a tourism project manager for Carbondale Tourism, said Garfield County is rich with opportunities for Agritourism, and Carbondale specifically has a long history of farming. Carbondale tourism recently launched a Farm + Food map highlighting local farms with Agritourism opportunities and restaurants that specialize in farm-to-table menu options.

Pam Johnson hangs out with the goats near the barn at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

“I love the fact that this is a visitor education tool, but I think our local community will connect with it as well and use it perhaps,” Johnson said. “You can learn about history and you can enjoy a cocktail and then you can enjoy a lovely meal. There’s just so many different layers to connect with the destination through agritourism.”

Lucy Perutz is the co-owner and chef at The Beat restaurant in Carbondale, which started as an entirely vegetarian eatery but shifted its business model during COVID-19 to accommodate local farmers who were experiencing a produce surplus and individuals who were hesitant to visit grocery stores at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We were like, ‘well, let’s translate our business to something that makes sense for the moment,’ and that turned into an online order-ahead grocery store that specialized in local foods and your staple and bulk items, too,” Perutz said. “… We had meats and some dairy, which we’ve never served meats before, but we found it kind of important to keep the farmers going … to support the entire model of local food.”

Merrill Johnson feeds an alpaca at Cedar Ridge Ranch.
Chelsea Self / Post Independent

The restaurant is now in a transition phase from being a grocer back into being an eatery, but Perutz said their focus will now prioritize locally grown crops on the menu, instead of being sure to offer staple dishes guests had come to enjoy but may require produce out of season to Colorado or from farther away.

“I think what we realized is really exciting is we’re gonna make awesome food and are going to provide good, quality tasty stuff that’s going to change a lot more often now because that’s just what we want to do,” Perutz said. “We want to better support the farms and if they can tell us they have a surplus of this one particular item, that’s going on the menu.”

 

Reporter Jessica Peterson can be reached at 970-279-3462 or jpeterson@postindependent.com.


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