There are very few people in the world who would consider growing vegetables, year round in the North end of the Gunnison Valley. This high mountain desert is home to some of the coldest temperatures and highest snow amounts in the state, if not the country. We experience almost 300 days of sunshine in an average year, and those crystal clear, bluebird skies allow all that warms during the day (if it even does at -15*) to freeze solid in sub zero temps at night. It is a rough place for anything to grow, even in the summer. Our gardening season is typically 3 months, depending on the freezes. I know I don’t plant anything outside until the middle of June and by the end of September only the heartiest of vegetables will still be producing. But that’s here in Crested Butte, Colorado. There are other, much more fruitful areas of the state that provide so much in the way of fresh, local produce. There is also a strong communal desire in this valley to eat locally, which creates a conundrum of sorts. How do we feed ourselves local vegetables when the ground is frozen 70% of the year? Kate Haverkampf is working on an answer to that question with her venture into Freight Farming.
Tassinong Farms is one of the newest additions to the (mostly residential) Crested Butte South community. It’s pronounced a lot like it looks, softening the end like when you say “song”. It’s a family farm name from Indiana, which is where Kate grew up as part of a 9-generation farm family. Her grandparents grew corn and soy beans, just like their grandparents and great grandparents did. As the generations get older and farming becomes more industrialized and less about getting your hands dirty, the land is being slowly sold off. The passion to provide fresh, local, nutritious food for herself and her family, however, is something that will never fade with Kate.
After a brief residency in Normandy, France, for her husbands work, Kate came to truly appreciate the dynamic of a local food economy. She was able to feed her family straight from farmer’s markets and family owned and operated meat and cheese stores. She knew she was feeding other families with her purchases and felt good about the communal energy that surrounded this method. She says that she was spoiled by how important local food was to the French economy and what a stark contrast it is to the way things are done here in the US. Her husband works in transportation, so she was always aware of how far her food had to come to reach her table and the affects of that travel on the environment. When her family was faced with the unfortunate early passing of her brother, who was not obese or “unhealthy” in typical ways, it inspired her to really focus on feeding herself and her family fresh, unprocessed foods as well as to inspire others to do the same. Enter, now, Freight Farming.
Freight Farms is a company based out of Boston, Mass. They have implemented over 50 container gardens throughout the country. Kate’s farms are the 52nd and 53rd to the growing family. By up-cycling used shipping containers and converting them into all-inclusive, working hydroponic gardens, Freight Farms has delivered thousands and thousands of pounds of fresh produce to families, schools and restaurants in both urban and rural areas. The farms come equipped with the plumbing, electrical and climate control hookups. They have the tubes and the shelving and lights in place and are ready to basically be attached to water and electricity hookups and begin growing. Kate received her farms on the 8th of December and was growing lettuces a couple of days later. Unfortunately, there are always some lessons to learn in both gardening and business development and Kate had her biggest one right away. Within a couple of weeks of growing her lettuces, they began to turn yellow and die. She tested the water and discovered it was mineral heavy and was killing her plants. Just a small hiccup in the grand scheme of things, though. She is back up and running after switching to reverse osmosis water filtration and her plants are as happy as can be, some of the dying lettuces even came back!
Tassinong Farms is made up of two Freight Farms for now. They sit perpendicular to each other just a small distance off of the road. They have a tasteful, simple awning over them to keep the snow off the roofs. Kate has her farm separated into two categories; lettuces and herbs. She is using seeds from Johnny Seeds, a company that has ties with Freight Farms who has proven that they grow well with the hydroponic method. She is happy with the results so far but is also eager to discover other seeds that grow well in her habitat, eventually being more locally based when it comes to the types of herbs and lettuces she offers. Lettuce and herbs are perfect for the growing conditions, which are towers that live vertically among sources for light and water. They are light enough and their fruit doesn’t want to fall off the plant, creating messes. Each farm has 256 towers, each with ten plants growing from them. The lettuces are harvested and replaced each time, while most herbs can be harvested at least three times before needing to be replaced. The entire farm is fed through an automated system that mixes the ideal ratio of nutrients to water and disperses the water every two hours throughout the entire farm. The towers are designed with a wicking strip of sorts pressed between the mesh that the plants live in. The wicking strip retains and disperses the water to feeds the plants, depositing the unused water at the bottom of the towers to be recycled and used again. The plants are given 18 hours of LED light that shines red and blue and encourages the plants to grow quickly. The 6 hours of “rest” is when Kate works in the farm, planting seedlings and harvesting the crops to sell.
So, where can you find these delicious, homegrown mountain lettuces and herbs? Kate sells in CB South on Thursdays and Saturdays and in the Town of Crested Butte on Sundays. Families and individuals can sign up to pick-up a mini or whole variety box of whatever is being grown that week by going to www.Tassinongfarms.com and clicking on “Order Your greens”. Following Tassinong Farms on Facebook is another great way to discover what and where she is selling the goods. It doesn’t make sense to have people at the farm every day due to the carefully controlled climate. Her produce is currently being sold at Mountain Earth Grocers in Crested Butte and The Local Market in Gunnison. She is also working with Clark’s Market who will hopefully sell her lettuces and herbs regularly. Working with restaurants can be a little trickier, she is finding. The quality of produce she is growing is superior to the stuff that comes off of the trucks and most restaurants have developed their prices and food budgets around. It’s difficult to legitimize raising food prices for some restaurants, but in some cases, the customer really appreciates locally grown and sustainable produce and she knows that many places will come around. You can find her Green Shiso in dishes at Lil’s Sushi and her Sweet Basil at Garlic Mike’s in Gunnison. Keep your eyes peeled for locally grown Tassinong Farms greens in your salads and herbs in your cocktails at other local establishments soon! Third Bowl wins the prize for the first use of the herbs, they made a basil-honey-pistachio ice cream that is divine… aren’t all of their flavors? Ultimately, the goal is not to have a monopoly on the towns source for delicious greens and herbs. She wants to people to be able to taste the difference between something grown locally and something that comes in on a truck from who knows where. Trucked in basil that comes in the storage bags tastes totally different and goes bad fairly quickly compared to her product. It is premium to what the norm is and she understands that it will take a while for restaurants to come around to wanting the better product.
Consistency is also still an issue. After the initial loss from understanding the mineral content of the water, the farms have been quick to bounce back, but establishing a routine can be tricky. Getting the greens into consumers hands is a quite the task. There is a lot of regulation and concern surrounding food safety, so she is hesitant to just let everyone come visit the farm, peek in or take tours. (I feel lucky to have been able to do so!) She is also faced with strict regulations when it comes to providing schools with her products. She feels certain that all of these things will iron themselves out as she continues to move forward, though. Kate is a dedicated farmer and enjoys her time with her crops. She personally plants each seed and transplants each seedling as they grow into delicious heads of lettuce and kale, although she does hope to hire some help soon. She is juggling all components of being a farmer and a new business owner as well as wife and mother. There will be ups and downs, but ultimately… things are growing! The residents of the Gunnison Valley can rest easy knowing that Kate is working hard to provide our community with delicious, nutritious and local greens and herbs year round. The conundrum is close to being solved. I hope you make the effort to obtain some of the goods soon and look for them more frequently in local shops and restaurants.
On a personal note, I am really interested in where my own food comes from and have found a passion for writing about it. I’d like to continue to uncover local sources for not only our little valley, but statewide and across the country. If you are a farmer, or know of a farmer who is doing great things in this industry, let me know! I’d love to visit, interview and spotlight these efforts here on the Rather Be Creative Blog. Rather Be is an integrative approach to living the healthiest and happiest life you can possibly imagine…. the “Life You’d Rather Be Living.” Finding little (and not-so-little) pockets of wellness in the world is not only inspirational but critical to incorporating healthy habits into our lives. I want to be sure that everyone knows what is available to them, why it is important and what kinds of efforts are made. I love to hear from you in the comments, on facebook and in person. Thanks for keeping in touch!
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