To say the least, 2021 was a wild ride for Folks Farm. We pushed our edges, learned a lot, and I generally kicked my own butt up and down the Front Range. A truly formative year in my career as a first generation farmer carries a legacy both do’s and don'ts.
Our season started in February with our first harvests of “Gem Spinach”. This crop was planted way back in October 2020 in an open field. Later we built an unheated growing tunnel above the maturing spinach. Winter spinach is easily the most delicious spinach as the bitter cold makes for delectable greens. Restaurants like Little and Somebody People ate this crop up, making room for our nursery.
As we harvested through the spinach we finished the tunnel. A double layer plastic cover inflated from a small fan doubled our insulation. We installed a heater and vent fans to regulate temperature. By March 1 we were seeding regionally adapted onions from Aspen Moon Farm. This nursery became our hub for months as we sowed thousands of baby plants destined for the field.
Baby chicks arrived in March. Cute as can be, we set them up in their new home. A week later an epic snow storm rolled in causing a serious electrical malfunction, knocking out their heat lamps. We ended up losing 50% of our chicks over the next couple weeks as many were trampled to death or became sick from cold. The ladies that made it are now thriving happily laying eggs.
April, the garlic is beautifully up from tremendous spring moisture. Our first plants from the nursery are being planted as bed prep occupies much of our time. The learning curve in farming is steep. I went away for a weekend, neglecting to check the propane tank. A cold night later and we had run our fuel empty causing a catastrophic loss in our tomato, pepper, eggplant, and basil crops. Over 90% of the trays had succumbed to frost. With delays in shipping time we replanted everything from our saved seed (a benefit of seed saving). The surviving plants never thrived and led to limited harvests.
May proved to be beautiful. Dryland cover crops were established on South Farm. Peas, favas, lettuce, and greens were growing at North Farm. Onions and leeks were ready for their journey to Flores Del Sol. This third farm was a partnership between Folks Farm, Colorado Fresh, and the Northern Colorado Foodshed. Our good friend Hayden at Colorado Fresh prepped two acres for planting onions and winter squash. This would be our first dive into larger scale, mostly mechanized, production. We used a tractor mounted transplanter to get onions and leeks in the ground. This process took us several days, but would have taken several weeks or tons of people without the equipment.
A couple weeks into our farmers markets, CSA, and using the newly constructed Farm Stand we continued planting, weeding, and harvesting. Tomatoes, peppers, melons, and other delicious fruits were being planted at South Farm. Our cover crops were growing strong and we were doing weekly harvests from North Farm. The quality of the crops was outstanding. Beautiful lettuce heads, green garlic, and greens were coming in and we were stocked up to feed the public.
Summer solstice is often our final window to plant long season annual crops. Hayden and I took this opportunity to plant winter squash. With him driving and me dropping we used the same transplanter as the onions, simply sending the seeds down the modified shoot, planting an acre in a couple hours.
Our weaner pigs arrived. These girls would be fattened up over the next 5 months, growing from about 30 lbs each to almost 300! There was no way we could feed them with farm waste so we built partnerships with the Larimer County Food Bank and Vindeket Foods. Eventually we were redirecting thousands of pounds of food waste from the landfill into the pigs. Now with a full freezer of pork and from hearing what our customers have said, this made for some high quality bacon!
July is always a special time. Most crops are planted and harvests are consistent. By the middle of the month it was time for our garlic harvest, the first bulk crop of the season. We grew ¼ acre of garlic this season with a wide diversity of varieties. Never a week goes by without me thinking about garlic so getting harvested into the barn to cure comes as a relief. This crop was grown with “no-till” practices. Our understanding is that by limiting soil impact, tillage, microbial life can flourish. Mycelium breaks down hard to reach minerals and the plants have access to more soil nutrients. Ideally this system sequestered carbon from the atmosphere and grew better food. I am not sure, but that garlic sure is tasty!
August brings on the fruits. Our summer crops were ripe and our time was spent harvesting. Through a collaboration with Hoka Hey Kitchens we had our first on-farm dinner since 2019. Using farm ingredients, our chef put together a four course indigenous inspired meal. Our guests enjoyed a personal farm tour, some tasty food watching the sunset over 2 acres of crops, and a hearty bonfire.
If we were not hustling before, now it is go time. September. Peak abundance on the farm. Hundreds of pounds of produce was coming in daily as the crew worked hard to keep up. Our annual Chilefest brought bunches of Folks to the farm as we celebrated the almighty roasted chile. We began harvesting our winter squash. We did not have the capability to efficiently move bins, industry standard for many crops, so we packed the squash into boxes directly from the field. These boxes were then loaded onto the trailer, hauled back to South Farm, and stacked in the barn. Let’s just say, it was heavy. Each box weighs around 30-40 pounds and we ended up pulling 384 boxes and 3 bins of organic squash. By my estimates this probably weighed around 15,000 pounds.
October. The crew is tired. I am tired. The farm is tired. A final push to finish out the season bringing in our fall crops like onions, cauliflower, and due to the nice weather tomatoes. We planted our garlic, tended winter crops, and moved a tunnel from North Farm to South Farm.
The longest fall I can remember and several bumper crops led to our first Fall/Winter CSA. From November, these shares went out weekly to 35 families until Christmas wrapping up our season here at Folks Farm.
2021 was the hardest year I have farmed. Not only did I reach my limits, but went over them. Our net was spread so thin it was impossible to keep up with everything. I am eternally grateful for my main crew members Carli and Patrick for their endurance and positivity throughout the season. I also want to thank our CSA members for their weekly support. It is truly a privilege to serve you all food, something I do not take for granted. I want to thank all of our customers at the farmers market who showed up most weeks, didn’t complain about prices, and enjoyed our lovingly grown food. The restaurants deserve a special applause for their continued support even as business was difficult. Thank you to the people who volunteered their time throughout the season, your extra hands and attitudes made the work much lighter. I especially want to thank Milo, our most consistent volunteer. At 16 years old he shows wisdom beyond his years and can surely work his butt off. Thanks bro.
Scaling back, focusing in, collaboration, and building community will be core elements of 2022. I am thankful for all the struggles of this season, I am thankful for the crops we received, and I am optimistic moving forward. See you all in 2022!