Highway 287 and Highway 14 north of Laporte are two of the reasons I fell in love with the northern Front Range ten years ago. That winding drive of green pastures and cropland stretching up to the base of purple timbered foothills and the mouth of the Poudre Canyon spoke to me of the best of both worlds … the peaceful, agricultural landscapes I’d grown up with and loved met the soul-stretching vistas of the Rocky Mountains. Yes, please.
This week my mom and I traveled this route to Raindrop Retreat, a small farm at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon. I first learned of Raindrop Retreat a few years ago from a friend who plans yoga getaways and described Raindrop and its owner, Tara Parr, as exquisite, welcoming, restorative. So color me interested when a year or so after that I found Raindrop Retreat at the downtown farmers’ market! It turns out that Raindrop is not only a picturesque retreat destination, it’s also a working farm. In fact, Raindrop’s multifaceted nature reflects owner Tara Parr. Friendly and down-to-earth, the first time I met Tara at the farmers’ market, her grounded demeanor struck me. While very much an earthbound gardener, Tara is also an artist, a genuine hostess, a visionary and active community member.
As my drive climbed slightly out of the valley and down the gravel road that hugged one hillside and then dropped into a higher meadow circled by foothills, my thoughts traveled from “Is there a microclimate in this little geographic setting?” to “Surely fruits and veggies grown in this foothills soil and wind and weather taste differently than the generic ones at the supermarket!” to “What grows up here?!” to “What a sweet, protected little haven for a farm!”
The multifaceted nature of the place surfaced when Tara Parr the gracious hostess and retreat owner invited us in and welcomed us with fresh fruit, toast and ginger spread, and large mugs of hot tea in her spacious dining area. We talked about Raindrop’s beginnings, how Tara moved to Colorado in 1978 to be near her beloved grandfather, how her preparations for the farm began then, as she collected compost and worked on her soil. This 30 acre retreat snuggled into the foot of the foothills turns out to be the perfect protection for an acre and a half of intensely managed fruit, vegetable and poultry production.
When I asked about a microclimate, Tara smiled and said, “Wind!” Yet despite its location at the mouth of the Poudre Canyon, Raindrop’s climate is mild. It is, in fact, in the ‘rain shadow’ of the storms that build over the tops of the mountains and then head out to the eastern Plains. Rain must most often come from southerly or easterly storms blowing upslope against the surrounding foothills.
After W’s (that’s affectionate talk for ‘Words’ around here – we have coffee and W’s regularly) and ginger spread, we meandered out to the garden. We wound out to the apricot trees, through the windbreak to the sweet strawberry patch behind the house. The strawberries reminded me of us sitting around Tara’s table with our cups of tea – having W’s with their friends from the allium family. Turns out strawberries and garlic or onions or shallots or scallions or leeks or ramps like to hold hands and chat in the garden. Who knew?
In the garden, soft foot paths wound us through baby lettuces and more strawberries (oh yes I did pick one and eat it!) …
… past the burdock (a difficult to harvest root touted in herbal medicine as a blood purifier) … and rhubarb … and the mint used by Tara in her handmade herbal teas …
… to a field of raspberries.
Growing Front Range-friendly fruit is one of Tara’s fortes. Her CSA (read: Community Supported Agriculture) shares are primarily fruit shares. In order of ripening, the fruits that can be found in those baskets of goodness this year will be: strawberries, apricots, gooseberries, sour cherries, pears and apples, and raspberries. Statements like that in the farming industry can sound a little presumptuous and are often and best predicated with a disclaimer similar to “Lord willing and the creek don’t rise”, or “Lord willing and the rain shadow’s not too bad”, or “Lord willing and the hailstorms skirt us.” You get the point. Nature’s the boss when it comes to farming. She says what and when or if the fruit shares come off strong. Right now Tara’s apricot trees are loaded, possibly one of their most bountiful years ever, though mere days ago they experienced the tension of living at Nature’s mercy as the Hewlett Gulch fire raged only three miles away.
Raindrop’s CSA fruit shares run from June to October. AND YOU ARE IN LUCK! Tara just had one share cancel and it is now available! Hurry, run, beat the door down. You could be the lucky recipient of a beautiful share of seasonal Front Range fruit! Please see Raindrop Retreat for more information or the contact information at the bottom of this post to reach Tara.
Past the raspberry field I laughed as I watched the heirloom turkey tom strut and gobble. Tara also sells her turkeys … mama turkey hen is currently sitting on 17 eggs. Speaking of eggs, I bought these beautiful chicken eggs from her last week at Larimer County Farmers’ Market!
I really thought they were too pretty to crack but this morning they made it into a turkey sausage, Parmesan and shallot (also from Raindrop) omelet.
Beyond the garden lies the orchard where more apricot trees, cherry, pear and apple trees expect soon to be joined by Tara’s latest fancy – a quince tree.
This is what I love about small, local farmers. Sigh. You’re right, there are many, many things I love about them. However, the quince tree reminds me that one big thing I love about food shopping with small farmers is the opportunity to taste and experience the unusual, out-of-the-mainstream foods, herbs and products that tickle their fancy. For example, Tara likes burdock and quince and making herbal teas. Having Tara at a local farmers’ market and knowing her personally makes it much more likely that I will actually taste burdock and quince in my lifetime. In fact, I can’t wait to see the burdock root and raspberry leaf/mint/nettle tea show up on Tara’s table some Saturday morning this season. And when Tara’s strawberries show up at the downtown market in the next few weeks, I’ll be able to picture that sunny spot behind the windbreak where they’re growing. It’s probably a little too ethereal-sounding, but I feel like maybe I’ll be able to taste the cleanness of the Poudre Canyon air or the sweetness of Rocky Mountain sunshine or the grounding energy of Tara’s patient care.
And this is why we eat locally. Because it’s good. Good for the body, good for the soul, good for communities. It’s real. It’s food that’s built of the same elements we are – wind and foothills and rocky soil and rain shadows and cool nights and dry summer heat. And perhaps most of all, because the people who supply it will look you in the eye, smile like they’ve known you all your life, and invite you to sit down for a cup of tea.
Raindrop Retreat, Tara Parr
Eggs, Veggies, Fruit, Herbs and Value Added Products: Larimer County Farmers’ Market, Saturdays from 9a-12p, May-October
CSA Fruit Shares – ONE SHARE AVAILABLE NOW for 2012 season! Pick-up at 633 Remington. Call now to become the last fruit share member that Raindrop needs for the 2012 season.
CSA Turkey Shares
Aloe Hand Cream and other Value Added Products at Food Co-op
Fruit Purchased by Little Bird Bakeshop
Volunteers Welcome and Needed! Learn about growing food on the Front Range, amending soil, companion planting, permaculture and more with Tara as your mentor.