A group of citizens from Ridgway, Ouray, Montrose and surrounding areas concerned with sustainability and providing local sustenance piled into the seats on the back of a Switzerland of America tour truck on Sunday, Sept. 16 for the annual farm tour. This year the tour, organized by Susan Maybach and Wayne Pandorf of the Transition OurWay Agriculture Group (TAG), focused on commercial farms in the area as well as resource management, sustainability and high altitude farming. The group toured a livestock operation, greenhouses and gardens during the day trip that took the form of a modern technology hay-ride; some women wore large brimmed hats for sun protection that were lifted from their heads by the wind as the open air vehicle transported town and country folk from farm to farm.
The journey began up the Log Hill escarpment, where a cattle drive stopped the tour. The cattle belonged to Kristy Orvis, who transfers them from their summer grazing each year down the side of the mesa, through the town of Ridgway and to the family property south of town.
Moving once again, the group of 14 (one car followed the truck) headed to the Jupille Ranch where Henry and Anita Jupille raise grass fed beef, lamb and natural pastured pork processed locally to ensure gourmet quality. According to Henry Jupille, the ranch has a closed herd, which means that all of the cattle spend their entire lives on the property. By not transporting animals in and out of the herd through buying and selling, Jupille believes the animals’ contraction of and exposure to possible diseases are cut down.
Jupille sold half of his herd in the last year in anticipation of the drought and rising hay prices based on the minimal snowpack. He stated hay prices have nearly doubled since last year. Over the past decade it has been a much larger increase; this summer he is paying $250 per ton and 10 years ago he paid $35 per ton. A harsh reality for the ranch is that the operation will not make a profit for the next two years due to rising costs of operation and a smaller herd.
“As much as we love the land and love the animals, what we are doing here is not sustainable. There is not enough water and we have to bring in feed,” explained Jupille. This year the property received a mere six hours of water in April from La Tierra Ditch, on which the Jupilles have second priority. A green stripe visible in the field was a living testament to where the water penetrated the ground. Average years bring five weeks of water to the grazing pastures on the ranch. The operation functions because of a well and an alternate income for the couple.
They believe in raising their livestock on nutritious and natural sources; the cattle live their lives on grass hay and the swine spend much of their time foraging but are also fed corn. The ranch sells CPA shares for one eighth of an animal, which is fractional ownership. This allows for gourmet processing outside of USDA-approved processing plants. All Jupille beef hangs in the meat lockers at Goods Processing for four weeks before it is sliced and shipped to the partial owners.
According to Jupille, modern processing of animals that are purchased in the supermarket is very different from the historic methods. Modern technology tenderizes, preserves, colors and flavors meat with chemicals, needles, soaks and decomposing agents, he said. His meat is aged and cured the old fashioned way. For additional information on Jupille Ranch, go to jupilleranch.com.
Colorado Culinary Gardens
The second stop was at the Colorado Culinary Gardens (CCG), located on Wild Poppy Lane, technically in Montrose County but mere miles from the top of Dallas Divide as the crow flies. The gardens are a work in progress as this is the second year of operation. The greenhouse produces between 50 and 70 pounds of tomatoes each week, and the one acre of land currently in cultivation grew 56 varieties of herbs and vegetables this year. CCG uses companion gardening techniques, which is the practice of planting differing varieties of seeds in close proximity to one another based on how they replenish and deplete the soils as well as how they repel insects and are mutually beneficial in other ways. Ponds catch the water that flows out of the gardens to be used and reused before it evaporates or eventually feeds the forest, said tour guide Michael Inman.
The multiple rows of the garden snake through the bed and down the hill, but this was not enough to slow the water down for maximum absorption during this year’s drought. Next year Inman plans to have one row that winds throughout the plot, slowing the water even more.
CCG sits at an elevation of 8200 feet and the goal is to create a permaculture garden that is slowly built to be self-sufficient over time with little maintenance, said Inman. “The plan is that in five years we could walk away for three years and return to a bounty of things to eat,” he said.
Operations will cease for the year sometime in November, when winter snows prohibit access to the property without snowmobiles. The greenhouse is set up with solar water heaters and eventually could be in production year round. In coming years, Inman plans to expand the CCG operations to include sheep, turkey, rabbits, chickens and goats as well as additional dry weather crops. Seeds are saved from the garden each year and planted the next in an effort towards sustainability.
After CCG, the TAG tour stopped at Flour Power for a quick lunch of enchiladas, salad, rice, beans, guacamole and salsa.
Yankee Boy Farm
The final commercial garden on the tour was the Yankee Boy Farm (YBF), which is basically a one-woman operation run by Alyssa Tsukushi, who admitted that her boyfriend helps occasionally. YBF is located on land leased from Joy Billings, who calls the property High Creek Ranch.
A large three-piece sliding A-frame greenhouse with waist-high beds sunken into the ground is the main area of operation. The structure is not as warm as a high tunnel, said Tsukushi. “With the movability you lose some insulation.” The waist-high beds make for easier harvesting for the five foot tall Tsukushi, who said that reaching across most traditional beds is a strain for her short arms.
The sliding greenhouse allows for direct seeding rather than transplanting because it can be “scooted” along the rails. Leaks, onions and peppers are the main crops grown at YBF, which Tsukushi sells at the farmers' market in Montrose. Billings receives 10 percent of the crop and the remainder is traded for other produce or eaten. This focus on a small number of crops has kept the property manageable for Tsukushi.
This was the first year Tsukushi leased the land from Billings and she spent much of her time struggling against the pasture grasses and field mice. Converting pasture to garden is no easy task, said Tsukushi, who would prefer bind weed, saying “at least you can pull it out.”
Ridgway Community Garden
A small part of the TAG tour continued on to the Ridgway Community Garden where members were hard at work watering and preparing for the final harvests of the season.
The purpose of the farm tour was to raise awareness about local food production and sustainability, said Paula James of Transition OurWay. For more information about community projects and the local transition movement, go to www.transition-ourway.org