Located at the base of Buckhorn Mountain at 6700' elevation, Buckhorn Gardens is a small, organic vegetable farm 13mi. south of Montrose, Colorado. Our farm is an active part of a 12,000 acre ranch; however, we only manage 3 acres with intensive vegetable gardening.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Here is some excellent information I gleaned while attending the first annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum:
The first workshop I attended after the opening meeting and networking breakout was titled Feeding your Soil to Feed Your Crops: Cover Crops and Soil Fertility. Isaac Munoz, a representative from the CSU extension office, presented a slideshow about soil fertility management and utilizing green manures, such as legumes and annuals, as cover crops. Dependent on a farmer’s needs both for livestock feed and soil fertility, a balance between needed inputs and potential gains is important to achieve in order to realize both primary and secondary benefits of green manures as cover crops. As with all cultivation of crops, growing and fallow periods should be put into rotation. Another example of rotations that Isaac included in his presentation was the rotation of planting green manures and cash crops during the growing periods. A major point that I learned was how all these rotations exercise the soil in order to strengthen fertility by additions of biomass and fallow rest periods.
The second session I attended was titled Creative Labor Options. Sue Towne from the Colorado Workforce Center identified regulations and gave thorough details involving famers who bring in foreign workers on H2A visas. Most items like housing, travel, work visas, and food must be funded by the employer. Although for larger farms and extensive orchards, the benefits of having skilled herders/laborers were made clear. Cassandra Shenk, the director of Teens on Farms discussed her organization of local teens interested in farming. Farmers interested in having a group of teens on their farm must have liability insurance or be working with an organizer who already does. Cassandra stated that one of the major goals of Teens on Farms is to use education as a platform for building a strong work ethic from the energy of youth. Russell Evans presented his original idea of Transition Lab and how the idea is now a reality. Transition Lab is an experiential internship/workshop with many topics all packed into a 6 month period. Providing young farmers with housing and a location(s) to practice newly learned skills, Transition Lab seeks to be part of a new food revolution as well as being an alternative to endeavors offered at expensive, fruitless institutions of higher-education. Wrapping up the second session, Melanie Kline presented the efforts of Welcome Home Montrose to establish veterans into therapeutic endeavors of their choice. Josh Heck, a veteran with Welcome Home Montrose, frequently volunteers with us at Buckhorn Gardens. During our time working with Josh, we have been impacted by the positive changes and rapid improvements in well-being that we have observed in him. Welcome Home Montrose is doing an excellent job in providing veterans with a sense of community/family—an important first step in assisting with their individual recoveries.
The third session I attended was titled Expanding into New Markets: Retail, Wholesale, and Farm to School. Jeff Schwartz with Big B’s Juices started off the session by presenting some new products in the works and ideas for business expansion. He stressed the importance of good labeling and branding on every product a marketer has to offer. Also critical was to learn all about how to speak to your market in the language that that market can clearly understand. Rhea Flora, my general manager at Natural Grocers in Montrose, presented her slideshow on expanding into new markets by finding new niches for your product. Rhea posed one of the most important questions a business can ask, “How does my product compete with what’s already on the store’s shelf”? Identify vacant niches, do research to anticipate what demand(s) might already exist, and then creatively expand to fill those niches.
The fourth session I attended was titled Managing a Win/Win Internship/Apprenticeship Program. Lorraine Shide, with the Montrose County school district, encouraged our interests in initiating new school gardens and agriculture programs at schools. She informed us that high-schoolers can earn credits for their time working or interning at local farms. Following Lorraine, Julie Sullivan expertly advised us about the blessings and challenges that having an internship/apprenticeship program can bring. Both the apprentice and the mentor learn in conjunction in the full immersion learning style. Apprentices desire the lifestyle they’ll be learning at the ranch/farm, but they just need an opportunity to practice it. This presents the mentor a perfect chance to practice his or her interpersonal skills by investing in the development of a friendship with the apprentice/intern. All of this and more information Julie had to share with us, then finally pointed us in the direction of in Quivera Coalition’s New Agrarian handbook—which I made sure to purchase.
The fifth session I attended was titled Launching & Managing a CSA. Betsy Austin and Barclay Duranyi explained the purpose and many of the common challenges of launching a CSA. Ideally, a CSA farm is what an imagined neighborhood farm might be. The CSA acronym (Community Supported Agriculture) is exactly that: a farm supported by a community through the good and bad years. Betsy mentioned the important gains from first selling at farmer’s market for a year or so to identify the local market. Also for new farmers, selling at farmer’s markets allows the farmer to gain a loyal customer base. This loyal customer base will do much of the marketing for the farmer for the following market seasons and can even bring in potential CSA customers. During the first one or two CSA seasons, the farmer would do well to exercise a substantial buffer between production and the market/CSA demand. A point may eventually be reached when a CSA farm’s production anticipates and matches the market/CSA demands, allowing the farmer to operate on a tighter budget or even gain a larger profit. Success may be qualified when a CSA farm becomes sustainable to operate yearly; and, furthermore, can be quantified when it turns a profit.
The sixth session I attended was titled Magnetizing Customers: Booth Design, Online Options, Social Media, and Loyalty. Abbie Brewer started the session off by speaking on the topic of magnetizing customers through online forms of social media. Abbie has recently built up the website for the Montrose Farmer’s Market. She has designed it to be utilized by the local community through which to place orders to be picked up at market. This is called “media linking”. By keeping your website simple, engaging, and consistently up-to-date more people will visit and spend time on your website. This is a big part of staying visible to your market and new prospects. By staying updated with new media forms, Abbie informed us on how a farm can stay on the minds of its customer base. Following Abbie’s presentation, Carol Zadrozny with Z’s Orchard spoke on how agro-tourism can be a large part of staying visible to your loyal and potential customer base. In the past, Z’s Orchard has brought in local professional artists to showcase the orchard through works of art. It is very important to exercise any creative idea that positively increases the visibility of your operation.

Overall, the sessions were incredibly informative and useful. A bounty of speakers and information was somehow squeezed into this day-long conference. We attendees are so thankful to have had the opportunity to be a part of a local, progressive conference such as the Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum. Furthermore, as a young farmer and intern of sustainability, I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of the sessions including all the chances to network with local community members. Thank you, Valley Food Partnership, for supporting us young agrarians and all our wild ideas.

Get Buck!
~Jak @Buckhorn Gardens


  1. Great job, Jak! Glad you found the event informative.
    Jeri Omernik

  2. This is a great opportunity to learn a lot of stuff regarding farming. The topics presented in the forum seems to be so interesting. Hope there are other forums for which we can attend too. :)
    - ModestoMilling.com

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