Aspen organic food supplier ‘Farmer Jack’ Reed dies on land he worked |

Aspen organic food supplier ‘Farmer Jack’ Reed dies on land he worked

Jack Reed, known as "Farmer Jack," died April 17 from complications of a stroke. He was well-known in the Aspen area for his love of farming and bringing fresh food to Aspen restaturants and farmers' markets.
Courtesy Matt Morris

Jack Reed, who brought thousands of pounds of farmers’ products to Aspen tables for more than a decade, died last week from complications of a stroke, his daughter said Monday. He was 70.

“Farmer Jack” had stands in Aspen, the valley and western Colorado and was passionate about advocating and connecting farmers with local restaurants and families. Reed was in his yurt on a piece of land he purchased two years ago in Paonia when the stroke hit and he died six days later on April 17, his daughter Zada Clarke said Monday.

Reed had just returned to Paonia about a month ago from Napa, California, where he was running a farm for a winery but it was destroyed in the wildfires last year.

“He stayed until the last minute before the fires came to let out all the animals to make sure they were safe then he barreled down the road in his old van,” Clarke said. “That was just who he was.”

Reed, who grew up on the East Coast, graduated Harvard as a Rhodes Scholar and editor of the Harvard school paper The Crimson, Clarke said.

Reed was one of the first journalists to cover Woodstock, according to his family and friends.

“He used to tell a story that he went to Woodstock, pitched his pop tent, left for a bit and when he came back he couldn’t find it because there were so many people there all of a sudden,” Clarke said.

After decades of farming on the East Coast, Reed moved to Colorado at the behest of renowned chef Ryan Hardy, who started at The Little Nell in 2005. In 2007, Hardy was getting ready to open the small Rendezvous Organic Farm near Crawford and wanted Reed to help operate it.

Hardy first met Reed in 2002 when Hardy was running a restaurant in Martha’s Vineyard and Reed invited himself into the kitchen to sell food from local farmers.

“Jack walked in the back door in the summer of 2002 and immediately started to sell me greens and tidbits,” Hardy said Monday from New York City where he operates a restaurant. “He was working the farmers markets and extended that relationship to the restaurants.

“We struck up a friendship around goat’s milk. … A family had inherited a farm and goats, and Jack was trying to help them take the goats to slaughter, but I told him we’d buy all the goat’s milk they could sell.”

They bonded through farming on the East Coast island and Reed became his mentor. When Hardy wanted to start his organic farm, he called Reed to ask for his help with the farm-to-table movement.

“We needed a farmer and got Jack to come out,” said Hardy, who was a four-time James Beard Award nominee while at the Nell.

Reed soon became a voice for small farmers in western Colorado. Reed’s distribution efforts not only sold vegetables, fruit, eggs, meat and cheese from farms in Hotchkiss and Paonia but others throughout the North Fork and Roaring Fork valleys and the Western Slope.

“He and Ryan started the farm-to-table movement here eight to 10 years ago,” Aspen restaurateur David Roth said.

Reed’s friends said he loved going to farmers markets to open up customers to new foods and ideas.

“That’s the beauty of markets: When the people meet the farmer, there’s an emotional charge that happens,” Reed said in a 2009 interview with The Aspen Times. “If they can put a face to the whole process — that there’s a person spending their whole day in the cheese factory making the loaf of chevre, that there’s a farmer spending 16 hours a day in his field — the people are happier with the food. And the farmer is happier with his chosen profession.”

Roth, the former co-owner of Peach’s and now part of the new venture in the former Main Street Bakery building, spent a lot of time with Reed and they became fast friends. Reed spent four years doing a popup farm stand in front of Peach’s.

“He was really a catalyst and important to so many chefs here, a big part of the town,” Roth said. “He supplied (Peach’s) alone with 200 to 300 dozen eggs a week from farms in Paonia.”

Through the years, Reed also supplied local food products to Aspen establishments including Cache Cache, Meat & Cheese, the Aspen Emporium and Flying Circus and a number of hotels.

Jeff Schwartz, owner of Delicious Orchards in Paonia, met the “crazy hippie” at a coffee shop the week Reed got to Colorado and they “started to work together right away,” Schwartz said. He offered Reed a spot helping with the farm they were working.

“He just loved farming and selling. He loved being a part of the land,” Schwartz said. “We had a real good friendship, trust and business partnership. We were very similar — passionate, excited, fearless when it came to life. ‘Dancing Jack’ was a free-spirit and a good soul. He was the guy who danced at every party.”

Reed is survived by six children and two grandchildren. Plans are pending for a memorial service.

“He was a real good father. Us kids are all over the country and he stayed a good father,” said Clarke, who lives in New York. “He was supposed to live to 130.”

“We are looking to do a memorial service this summer,” Clarke added, “but everyone can do a memorial service for themselves now for Dad by dancing and a planting a tree.”

Aspen Times reporter Erica Robbie contributed to this report.

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