Indian Ridge Farm & Bakery, located at 7,000 feet in elevation, is a 100-acre diversified farm operation that includes grass-fed pastured poultry, layer hens, hogs, turkeys, goats, beef cattle, horses, vegetable gardens, greenhouse, a bakery, and hay pasture. The farm is situated outside Norwood, Co., on a mesa-top in the beautiful San Juan Mountains of southwestern Colorado, near Telluride. The farm markets its products via direct sales to customers and restaurants in Norwood, Telluride, Ridgway and the surrounding region, and through Farmer’s Markets. The farm also has a 65-household CSA this season. All of the poultry and turkeys are processed at the farm in a State of Colorado-inspected processing plant. Our animals are raised without any medications, growth hormones or GMO grains, and no herbicides or pesticides are sprayed in the growing areas.
We utilize the grass pastures that have been established here in the region for the past 100 years. We encourage our customers to always seek out and buy locally produced foodstuffs, especially if they are grass-fed. The results are numerous: a strengthening of agrarian communities; the overall ecosystem benefits; the consumer is severing the umbilical cord from the corporate giants; sustainable food systems are created; open space is preserved. Perhaps most importantly, as a consumer of locally produced foods, you connect to the land and the soil in a special and intimate way otherwise not available.
Obviously, growing food at 7,000 feet in elevation is a challenge. Our growing season is short, with ‘frost-free’ days from mid-June until mid-September, although we have had snowfall as late as June and as early as August. Nighttime temperatures during the summertime average in the low 50s and daytime highs rarely exceed 90 degrees. Rainfall is relatively scant, with total annual precipitation (rain and snow) of only 20 inches. In the wintertime, our garden and pastures are buried in snow for nearly four months.
Over the years, we have had to make many adaptations to our farming methods to ensure that we can grow the finest vegetables and raise the tastiest grass-fed poultry around. We have a season-extending greenhouse (a hoop-house, or ‘hot house’) and also rely on Remay row covers in the garden to protect plants from the elements. We are very careful about what gets planted, where and when. We religiously stick to a garden plan that is compiled during the wintertime. In spite of the challenging growing season, our CSA baskets are full of just about every vegetable that grows under the sun, save eggplant.
For our rotational pastured poultry operation, we have had to ration feed according to a very disciplined schedule that has been developed over the years, so that we can raise a 4-pound dressed chicken in 10 weeks. We aim to keep the survivability of our Cornish Cross hens above 90%, which is not an easy goal to achieve.
With help from our regional power cooperative and the USDAs Rural Energy for America program, we recently installed a 52-panel, 10kW solar system that will entirely power the farm operations. Sunshine is very reliable in this part of the Rocky Mountains! This is an exciting development in the evolution of our farm: we now capture solar energy not only to grow grass and vegetables, but also to provide for the energy it takes to run a successful operation.
Of course, utilizing scarce water resources is also paramount in how we operate. We use drip irrigation for watering the garden. We also have a series of ponds that stores water that originates high in the mountains in the form of snowmelt. Two years ago we installed a Ram Pump that can take water from one of our springs and actually pump it uphill to a pond, using only the pressure generated by running water and not any fossil fuels. Our garden soil is amended annually with compost generated from the processing plant in a closed soil fertility system that also has water-saving implications. Our characteristic clay-loam soils are now very rich because of this technique.
We’re very proud of our internship program, which every summer attracts three budding farmers who come to learn about a diversified farm operation that incorporates vegetables and livestock production. Many of our intern graduates have gone on to start their own farm operations, join in an existing family farm, or continue their farming studies formally at a university setting. The farm also becomes an open house to regional children’s programs, which frequent the farm throughout the year.
The bakery here at the farm provides a diversified form of income for both proprietors. We learned the hard way, during the drought of 2002 and 2003, that diversifying income in a small, family farm is paramount to its long-term sustainability. This bakery operates year-round, providing income during the long winter months, when the rest of the farm is mostly at rest.
Because of the long hours that it takes to successfully grow food, a farmer learns that quality of life comes in small doses, be it a shared meal with friends, a couple hours of ‘down time’ spent recreating or resting, or finding time in the fall to actually take a short vacation. Mostly, we enjoy the community-building aspect of the farm and eating the delicious and healthy food that is produced here. We have learned that if we treat our soils, pastures and animals with care and unbridled attention to detail, Mother Nature gives back in many ways, both tangible and intangible.
Interested in learning more about Indian Ridge Farm? Check ’em out at www.indianridgefarm.org