It was a good Friday this past week. I didn’t have to go to the day job. The sun was out and the endless rain took a break. Mother Nature is especially spendid when decked out in all her shades of green. And the best part of the day? Heading over to Happy Heart Farm to chat with one of my favorite ag people. Bailey, co-founder and farmer of Happy Heart.
I almost always drive by the farm entrance. The farm entrance is actually a bit hidden at the end of what would like be a cul de sac if the farm weren’t there, right off Elizabeth, west of Taft. Take a right on Kimball and a left on Plum. There you’ll see the cart road between the fence. Welcoming you to a ten acre parcel of paradise in the city.
Wandering over to the pick up shed, I met up with Claudia DeMarco, Executive Director of Friends of Happy Heart (I’ll explain more about that later). She walked me over to meet Bailey in the office, an extension of the house, tucked behind trees and a wonderful garden. Bailey came out to greet us, and offered to sit in the garden for our interview. If you’ve met Bailey you know she’s one of the warmest people you’ll meet. You’ll also know she has a fiery spirit when it comes to community, farming and supporting local food. She has opinions and she’s not afraid to share them. It’s one of the things I appreciate most.
We sat in the shade of the garden and got to chatting about her farming story. Bailey and her husband Dennis began Happy Heart in 1983. The property had been a farm, originally a dairy farm, and they wished to continue it. Bailey and Dennis practice bio-dynamic farming. They are also part of Homegrown Farmers, a 2 year certificate program to train the next generation of bio-dynamic farmers. Dennis is a mentor with the program. They also have had apprentices over the years. Meghan from Spring Kite Farm was an apprentice for three years, as was Adrian, the founder of Building Small Farmers. Here’s what their website says about bio-dynamic farming:
Biodynamic agriculture is a means of healing the earth and the human being; it enlivens the soil and thereby the food we eat. This is achieved through various cultural practices, but is centered on the deeply personal relationship between the farmer and the farm.
Although the Biodynamic Movement originated slightly before the Organic Movement, it actually represents the next conscious step beyond what the Organic Movement brings to agriculture. Fundamentally, it is inclusive of many of the methods familiar to “organic” and “permacultural” practitioners, but also takes into account the planetary influences and spiritual forces that affect plant growth. The use of the “biodynamic preparations” (specialized composts that are applied in homeopathic doses) also sets biodynamics apart from other farming practices.
Biodynamics originated through the spiritual scientific work of Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian scientist, artist, and educator. Steiner’s Work, known as “Anthroposophy,” (literally meaning “knowledge of the human being and what it can attain”) has given birth to other movements such as Waldorf Education, Anthroposophical medicine, and the art of Eurythmy.
In 1989 the pair attended and agricultural conference in Sante Fe where they were introduced to innovative farming practices. It is there where they first heard about Community Supported Agriculture or CSA for short. The model resonated with them and in 1990 they launched the first CSA program in Colorado. They were also influential in starting farmer’s markets in the community. What made the most sense with CSA’s was having members pay in advance for their share of vegetables, rather than having to spend so much time during the season, when time is rare, trying to find consumers for their product. Bailey calls teh sell as you grow model a “recipe for chaos”. In 1990 they began with fifteen families and they have had as many as 130. Bailey explained that this is a lean year, having about half the number of members as they usually have (there are shares still available if you are interested). Lean years call for innovation. Actually, every year calls for innovation when your a farmer. At least that is Bailey’s opinion.
While we sat in the garden Bailey had a large basket covering her lap and she pulled apart rose petals from the flowers in her garden. The petals, whose fragrence carried across the space between us, were for rose honey. Rose honey for the top of creme brulee. Creme Brulee for the Heart of Summer Dinner at the farm on July 19, put together in collaboration with Fortified Collaborations and the Chef Amelia Mouton of Restaurant 415. Farm dinners and creative food products are part of the innovation we discussed. She’s working on another project with a chocalatier with the same rose honey. Just one of the myriad of ways farmers make a living during the season.
We talked about many of the issues facing small farmers today. I don’t believe they have changed much. Representation in the market and politics, funding, especially in terms of access to land and infrastructure, and exposure to consumers. ” She expressed concern, “I don’t know what it’s going to take to make it open up.” Meaning the movement of small farms and the market for local food. Recently her neighborhood participated in Open Streets. She was out there with mint lemonade and offers for farm tours. She explained that there were a number of neighbors who let her know they had no idea a farm was in the area, never mind a ten acre oasis. We spent some time talking about ways to educate the public, and how much farmers need help in this area. Because, as mentioned before, they are really busy during the season. And not everyone has the expertise to be a grower, engineer, sales person, marketing person, etc.
This brought us to the topic of the future. Farming for 32 years is no small feat. The time is ripe for legacy planning. Preserving the land so it can continue in the city as a Heritage CSA farm. “It would be a tragedy if it’s not preserved”. Seeing a bit of the fire come into her, she expressed her desire to see the city start paying attention and include urban farming in their planning. Seeing the value of urban agricultural areas as means to educate folks, to utilize like parks and open space, much like Lee Martinez park. It’s a key item for consideration. Not just with aging farmers, but with cities and organizations, communities, both present and future. We are currently seeing urban ag by design with development projects like Bucking Horse on the east side of town.
Both Dennis and Bailey seem tireless. In addition to farming and founding various organizations and projects, they are also on committees with the new Northern Colorado Food Cluster. Dennis is on the committee for land policy and Bailey is on the committee for food security. Maybe such tireless activism is a result of their generation. That drive to leave something better than when they found it. It’s apparent their impact is expansive. And they raised three children in the midst of it all. Homeschooling two of them. Balance seems to be the key (isn’t it always!). And making the job of the farm fun. “You need to find new ways to make it fun”. Meditating two times a day and setting their schedule for public and private days helps a lot to recharge the couple for all that they do. Wednesdays is couples day, where they set off to get out in nature, not the cultivated kind at the farm, but that which provides some space and fun.
Another passion of the Stensons is feeding low income families. Bailey explained they have always found some way to do that. Most recently they have been approved to accept SNAP benefits (what used to be food stamps) and are in the process of obtaining the EBT equipment to be able to process the SNAP benefit cards, which work much like a pre-paid debit card. They also founded Friends of Happy Heart Farm and the Feeding Families Project. This organization provides for a funding source in feeding low income families. With the money raised each year, the farm is able to provide a farm share to families that apply and are accepted by the group. This year they are feeding a number of families, putting food on the table for about 80 people.
I asked Bailey if they had any problems with their neighbors, with sub-divisions surrounding the farm. She explained that they have had great neighbors, with only one complaint. That was the year they spread the manure across the fields but hadn’t yet had the time to plow it under. The smell was apparently a bit much that year, hence their one complaint. I believe much of that is likely the time and attention they place on meeting and introducing their neighbors to the farm. While some folks in the area have become members, Bailey acknowledges that the CSA model isn’t for everyone.
This year they have an added feature at the farm. The Audobon of the Rockies donated 100 perrenial pollinator plants through a member of the farm affiliated with the group. This is the first farm the Bee A Hero program has collaborated with. The plants provide food for various pollinators and beneficial visitors to the graden, like bees, butterflies and bats.
If you wish to check out the farm there are lots of ways to do so. Each month they host a Taste of Happy Heart during their pick up night, 4:00 to 7:00pm on Tuesdays. At the Taste local chefs prepare food from the farm, providing lots of great ideas to prepare what’s in your share, and mingle with the other members. Tuesday evenings tend to be quite an event regularly, with music, community and food from vendors like the Silver Seed food truch which is there every other Tuesday. They provide other things for sale, like protein options from Donoma Farms.
I had a wonderful talk with Bailey in her shade garden. It was just like old friends. I love when new friends feel like old friends. If you wish to swing by to meet Bailey and Dennis below is a full listing of Happy Heart events. It’s a great place and they grow some amazing vegetables. Tell them Erica sent you!
June 20 – Summer Solctice Celebration. Cost is $10 for non-members. This is one helluva a potluck. Music.
June 23 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm
July 19 – Heart of Summer Farm Dinner
July 21 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm
August 2 – Farm to Fork Dinner 6-8pm at Fort Collins Brewery
August 25 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm
August 30 – Bowling for Happy Hearts 2-6pm at Chipper’s Lanes North
September 22 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm
October 3 – Heart of the Farm Festival 2-6pm at Avogadro’s Number
October 20 – Taste of Happy Heart 4-7pm
October 25 – Yoga Feeds Us 1:30-3:30 at Old Town Yoga