Platts: | AspenTimes.com

Platts:

by barbara platts

IF YOU GO ...

New as of this summer are two glamping options at Merrill’s Family Farm. Visitors get the full farm experience by staying in one of these two places. Both properties share a hot tub, a solar-powered shower, an indoor shower and bathroom facilities.

Glamping Tent

One bedroom, sleeps two.

Amenities include internet, heat

and bathing essentials.

Price starts at $140 per night.

Yurt

One bedroom, sleeps four.

Amenities include a kitchen, internet

and bathing essentials.

Price starts at $140 per night.

Call 970-963-3507 or go to www.cedarridgeranch.com/farm-stay

for more information.

Everyone who comes to stay in this valley has an intriguing story. There’s something about this beautiful place that drew them in, kept them here and made them call

it home.

For the Johnson family, which includes Randy, Pam and their daughter, Merrill, what brought them here two decades ago was an overwhelming sense of love for the land, the community and, perhaps most of all, one another.

They are the owners of Merrill’s Family Farm, which sits on Cedar Ridge Ranch, a sweeping 67 acres in Missouri Heights just outside Carbondale. The Johnsons have owned this land for about 20 years. The property was mostly used as an equestrian boarding and training facility. However, in the past five years, it’s started undergoing a rather dramatic transformation, removing a somewhat exclusive air about it and, instead, embracing

the community.

They’ve conducted this transformation in several ways. It started five years ago with a compost program, turning horse manure, hay and sawdust into usable soil, which they then sell to gardens and other farms that are actively growing vegetables. After that came the piggies, Large Black heritage pigs, to be exact. They currently have about 30 of them. Following that, the Johnsons turned half of the stalls in their stable into creative spaces for local artists, which practice in media that range from photography and filmmaking to floral design and screen-printing. This last spring, two greenhouses were built that are now home to Erin’s Acres and Cedar Ridge Permaculture (more on those later). And, most recently, two “farm stay” options were established (see sidebar for more information), and farm tours and educational workshops were started.

These changes have not happened by mistake. It’s been a highly concerted effort by Merrill and her parents.

“I wanted to see this property be served and given its highest and best purpose,” Merill said. “This property is of the utmost importance to me. It’s very much in my heart. I feel that it has so much to share with our community and to lend and

to inspire.”

When you meet Merrill, who is 27 years old, it’s obvious how passion and love drive her every action. This isn’t simply a vocation for her and her parents. This is their life. And they put every drop of effort into making it the best life it can be.

However, this was not always the case. When the family first moved to the valley 20 years ago, Randy and Pam were leaving big corporate jobs in Chicago. Although they changed ZIP codes, Randy still had a highly demanding investment-banking job in the city. He had to deal daily with the “rat race,” as he puts it. He was away from the valley about 80 percent of the time on business. When he was home, Merrill said he constantly had computer screens in front of him. Randy was stressed. He would buy fishing gear and never use it because he was so focused on providing for his family. This was all until the economy tanked, which Merrill said brought them closer as a family, making Randy realize that monetary value was a far

cry from what his loved ones considered important.

“We didn’t see him as money signs; we saw him as our father,” Merrill said. “Once he realized that we didn’t want just money from him and that we wanted him to be at the dinner table and to love us, … he realized he was so much more.”

In many respects, the transformation of Merrill’s Family Farm mirrors that of Randy’s. Today, spending much more time on the farm, he knows that he is full of riches.

“I’m very wealthy because I’ve got the love of my life and my daughter and my friends, … so I’m a pretty wealthy guy,” Randy said.

Pam and Merrill both agree that he has changed immensely.

“He’s a totally different guy, and it’s been pretty amazing,” Merrill said. “So to do this all together means the world to us.”

The growth of Merrill’s Family Farm has happened quite naturally over the past five years. Out of all the additions, two that have gained a great deal of traction include the greenhouses that greet visitors near the entry gate to the property. Erin’s Acres is a small farm that is run by Erin Cuseo. Next door is Cedar Ridge Permaculture, headed by Zachary Paris. Both broke ground on their ventures in April.

Erin has had a great deal of experience farming in other locations. However, this was her first summer on Cedar Ridge Ranch. In this first warm season, she provided 25 community-supported-agriculture shares and sold her crop at the Basalt Sunday Market and the Carbondale Evening Farmers Market (both of which have one or more days left in the season).

Zachary, who is a Roaring Fork Valley native, started Cedar Ridge Permaculture to have a place where environmental learning and growth could occur. Being very passionate about the environment and working with the land and animals, he is regenerating the soil and creating a more diverse, resilient small farm through a whole-systems approach.

Both Zachary and Erin hope to grow their ventures in the coming seasons, which is possible, in part, because of the land that Pam, Randy and Merrill can provide.

“The Johnsons are a really good example of what landowners and ranch owners can and should be doing, which is creating opportunities for people like myself to do what I love but also enriching our community,” Erin said. “They are doing a really good job with that.”

The strategies the Johnsons have implemented to bring the community to their farm are vast, and they seem to be working.

Pam, who also has one of the creative spaces for her ceramics work, said that they have had visitors to the farm from all over the country. Many of them have never had the experience of a farm stay before. She estimates the visitors have come from a total of 60 cities thus far.

“It’s wonderful for us because it keeps us young,” Pam said. “No one is trying to judge anybody. There isn’t room for arrogance. There’s just a wonderful community.”

This welcoming philosophy applies to more than just the humans. Every living being on the farm is taken care of respectfully from birth until death, from the weeds in the ground that are never handled with pesticides to the pigs that are humanely harvested on-site.

“Waste, in general, is not waste. It’s energy,” Merrill said. “Nothing is inherently good or bad or evil. It’s the idea that everything is evolving and working together.”

So, what’s next for Merrill’s Family Farm? Well, as Merrill puts it, diversifying is always important. They hope to expand the creative spaces even more and make the farm a venue for events such as weddings. Perhaps one day the creative spaces will even be set up as a one-stop shop for a bride and groom, a place where they can connect with all of the artists for flowers, video, photography, invitations and more on their big day.

And Merrill and her parents hope it will continue to grow as a place where people can remember what’s good and important in life.

“Sometimes we have trouble being in the moment, feeling each heartbeat, feeling each breath. We have trouble just sitting back and really enjoying this place and space that we call life,” Merrill said. “I think this is just a really wonderful way of getting people back in that space. And hopefully they can take that feeling home and try to re-create it.”

To learn more about Merrill’s Family Farm and the wonderful work they’re doing, go to http://www.cedarridgeranch.com.

Barbara Platts is very thankful to the Johnson family for helping her get back to that space when she visited the property a couple of weeks ago. She highly recommends visiting the farm and experiencing it. Reach her at bplatts.000@gmail.com.


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