Ranching on the Grasslands: Miele Farms

I burst out laughing when Julie Miele told me how she got the cattle that started her ranch, Miele Farms.

She and her then-husband had bought a place out in the country. “He bought me some cows for my birthday,” she recounts.

miele-farm-cattle-run

I’ve heard a lot of stories about ranches, but Julie is the first person I ever met whose ranch started out with a gift.

It was the right gift. “It was the first time in my life I felt like I found something I was really good at,” she says of raising the cattle on her own ranch to her own standards.

Julie learned to raise cattle in a more commercial manner than she likes. Today she raises them on grass with no vaccines. The herd grazes a pasture and then moves to a new pasture when it’s time.

“We watch a lot of the growth cycles and the grass cycles. We don’t let them eat to the ground,” she explains. “For us, it’s all about watching the grass.” Her herd are grass fed and grass finished. “We want them to graze as much as possible.”

I wondered how she knows when they are ready to process and got an interesting answer.

“They’re done when they look done. We’re not a factory farm. It’s not an exact science. You have to be patient and flexible.”

Miele Farms Calf

“Who is ‘we’?”, I asked.

Julie and her children are the only people working this ranch. I sat back a moment in awe.

She forgot to mention Flat Stanley.

Miele Farms doesn’t just raise cattle. The family also raises pastured chicken, lamb and hogs.

The Mieles have three sows and a boar. They migrate down to the creek on her property to graze and play in the water. Even the 700 lb. boar plays in the creek, which must be quite a sight.

The other animals run and play on their pastures too. Sometimes the family will witness a calf playing with its mother.

“Nothing is better for me than seeing animals being happy and living out their lives. I feel very honored.”

Are you as struck as I was by Julie’s acceptance of the cycle of life? People often put some emotional distance between themselves and the animals that will be processed for food. Farming and ranching are vocations that put a person in direct contact with the mysteries of life and death, and it’s a bit much for most of us.

We name the laying hens, but not the meat birds. We watch the cattle in awe, but we try not to develop close relationships with them.

Julie somehow dispenses with all that. She gives the animals names, honoring the individuality of each one. It occurs to me that it takes pretty awesome strength to show that kind of humility. She doesn’t try to remake the cycle of life by pretending those animals are simply commodities or by pretending that being alive doesn’t require reliance on others.

“I know I have given them the best life possible. I know they’re happy and every day that they were here, they were happy,” she responds when I ask her how she does this.

Are you familiar with that part of the Bible where Rebecca asks about the babies who are already fighting in her womb, “If this is the case, why do I even exist?”

Julie answers that question every day. We exist because we have the power to spread the light of kindness, even in the dark places.

Note to the FTC: Julie tried to give me three broiler chickens to eat, but I thought that was too big of a gift. These are hand-raised, hand-processed pastured chickens and they were delicious! You’ll see some ads for Miele Farms in the Hungry Chicken Homestead newsletter as a trade.

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copyright 2016 Hungry Chicken Homestead

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Save Money with a Farm Share. Three CSAs that Deliver to Colorado Springs.

Have you ordered your farm share yet?

Colorado Springs Local Farm AVOG CSA in Color 2

You might not know it, but several Colorado farms and farm co-ops deliver farm shares (aka CSA shares) to Colorado Springs every week. I have personally tried three different farms and enjoyed them all. I’ll share them with you here, but first I want to explain why I always order a farm share…

  1. I save a lot of money on produce by ordering direct from the farm. Farm shares are calculated on wholesale prices, which means you get a whole lot more organically grown food for your money.
  2. I want my money to support our local economy and to keep farms in business. I love farms and if you’re reading this blog regularly, you probably do too. CSA programs help the farms get the most for their products and keep the land in the family.
  3. The food I get in my farm share is incredibly fresh! Grocery stores have to bring food in by truck and do all kinds of time consuming things to get the food to the consumer. The farm share produce, on the other hand, gets delivered directly to me, with no downtime in the truck and on the shelf.
  4. It’s wonderfully convenient to pick up the share and have all the produce I need for the week. Every winter, I lament the endless trips to the grocery store. I have to find parking, weave in and out of cart traffic and sift through a lot of food I don’t want to find what I do want. It seems like such a waste of time after the quick CSA pickups in the summer.

That’s why I always order a share and why I think you should too.

Colorado Springs Local Farm AVOG CSA Sept 12

Now, here are the CSA programs I’ve tried…

Venetucci Farm: I’m sure you’ve heard of Venetucci Farm. It’s just south of Colorado Springs in Fountain. I bought into their program two years in a row. You have to order early to get in because they have a limited number of shares. As of this writing, some are still available, but don’t procrastinate!

Reasons to choose this program:

Austin Family Farm is located in Paonia, CO, on the western slope. They sell fruit/vegetable shares and fruit-only shares. I often find myself ordering a fruit share in mid-summer because I’m eating the fruit in my vegetable share too fast.

Reasons to choose this program:

  • Fruit! I’ve gotten Colorado peaches, pears, grapes, apples, apricots & plums. You may have heard me recite whole odes to their concord grapes in the fall. They taste just like grape candy, but they’re really grapes!
  • If you are a member of this program, you can order extra items from their weekly produce list. This is convenient if you want to preserve some food for winter … or if you just want to eat a whole lot of concord grapes.

Arkansas Valley Organic Growers (AVOG): AVOG is a co-op of nine or ten family farms south of Colorado Springs, with most of them located in the Arkansas Valley, east of Pueblo. Larga Vista and Venetucci are both members of the co-op, as is Hobbs Family Farm and others you may have seen at the Colorado Farm and Art Market.

Reasons to choose this program:

  • AVOG offers many share add-ons, like meat, cheese, eggs and honey. They add new options every year.
  • AVOG has the widest variety of pickup locations of the three CSAs listed here. You can find them all over the city and on different days of the week.

This year, I’m signed up with Ahavah Farm. Egg shares are still available, but they have sold out of produce shares.

See! You’ve got to be quick! Sign up now and save yourself money, time and aggravation at the grocery store all summer.

Colorado Springs Local Farm AVOG Midsummer

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©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2016

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Zen Dairy Goats Soaps & Lotions

Remember our long nap?  Well, back in September, before we fell asleep, we had the pleasure of visiting Zen Dairy Goats in Pueblo.

No doubt, this calming ranch is what caused us to fall asleep in the first place.

No doubt, this calming ranch is what caused us to fall asleep in the first place.

Zen Dairy Goats is the pet (no pun intended) project of Eric Rovegno and family.  Eric has worked with food all his life in farming and as a chef.  Today, he and his family raise a menagerie of animals.

Colorado Springs Local Business Zen Dairy Goats Turkeys

Turkeys, for example. I personally think turkeys are the weirdest animals I’ve ever seen, what with their blue heads and beak flaps, but Eric said nothing about my suspicion that he gets them from Mars.

The ranch also raises pigs and chickens.  True to form, if you look at the pictures you can find a chicken in each one.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Zen Dairy Goats 1

A tautology of goat ranching is that you must find something to do with all the milk and a family can only consume so much.  Eric makes soaps and lotions with his and you can buy one of many varieties on their website, etsy or at some farmers markets.

Colorado Springs Local Business Zen Goat Dairy Soap

You may be surprised, but the chickens are not my very favorite thing about Zen Dairy Goats, although they are high on the list.  My favorite thing is Eric’s passion for helping people.

“The biggest enjoyment I get out of it is helping people,” he says, and having seen his altruistic Facebook posts, I believe him.  “That’s why I call it Zen, because I want to make sure people are feeling calm and good.”

The products also contain Doterra oils and I know from experience they smell really good.

The products also contain Doterra oils and I know from experience they smell really good.

Zen also carries handmade lip balms and perfumes.  You can get soap/lotion sets with a perfume too.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Zen Dairy Goats perfumes

I got to try a couple of soaps that Eric gave me, the Euphoria and Geranium Rose scents.  They are nice, hard soaps that hold up well in a soap dish.  Eric says his favorite scent is the Euphoria and it is a manly sort of scent.  Personally, I prefer the Geranium Rose.  I always hope Rose is coming back into style.  It just smells so good and so does the soap!

Colorado Springs Local Farm Zen Goat Dairy Geranium Rose

You can place custom orders with Eric and, if you’re lucky like me, you’ll even get an invitation to the ranch.  Don’t miss it!  And be careful.  The place & the scents are pretty calming and you might just fall asleep when you get home!

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Pure Foods Colorado

I took a lot of pictures during my visit to Pure Foods Colorado, a family-run ranch in Peyton, CO.  You’ll have to forgive me if most of them are of a baby cow.  You would be surprised how charming baby cows are!

Could you turn your camera away?  I couldn't.

Could you turn your camera away? I couldn’t.

I was reminded of a visit I made out there in August 2014 while talking with Yosef, of Ahavah Farm.

“We have really great neighbors, Brian and Katelynne,” he mentioned.

“Oh!”, I exclaimed, narrowing my eyes and searching my memory.  “I think I visited them once.”

“Yeah, Katelynne said they know you.  She said, ‘Bonnie was going to write an article about us, but I don’t think she ever did’.”

I’m embarrassed to tell you, dear reader, that it’s true.  This can happen when a person’s attention is constantly being pecked at by rogue chickens.  Honestly, I just can’t believe I forgot to write about the baby cow.  But it’s not too late!  Even if the baby cow is now a full grown adult cow, Pure Foods Colorado is right where it was in August and I can revisit that pleasant day in an article

"Get on with it," says the baby cow.  "Tell the story before naptime!"

“Get on with it,” says the baby cow. “Tell the story before naptime!”

Brian and Katelynne Hall used to live a different kind of life.  Though Brian grew up around farmers in California, he became a commercial pilot as an adult, working first for an airline and later in corporate aviation.  Pilots can make a good living, but, as you can imagine, it’s a job that takes you away from home a lot.

There it is, the big blue sky.  Does it call you to travel?  Or does it make you love your place that much more?

There it is, the big blue sky. Does it call you to travel? Or does it make you love your place that much more?

In the end, that kind of life wasn’t really what they wanted for themselves and their children.  They bought their land in Peyton in 2005 and began living an agricultural life.

In addition to adorable baby cows, they also raise goats and chickens.

In addition to adorable baby cows, they also raise these unusually clean goats and a few chickens.

Today, they raise food for the family in the form of vegetables, eggs, meat and milk.  The food extends into the community.  You can buy their pastured beef, their cow and goat milk and their organic chicken feed for your own family.  They gave me a jar of their delicious raw milk to try.  It was just what you would expect from cows raised peacefully on pasture and milked by hand in a clean, quiet milking parlor… creamy and gone long before the store-bought milk next to it in the refrigerator.

Katelynne mentioned how rewarding it is to raise food for her family and that they’ve done this together.  Brian is home now to work alongside Katelynne and their children.

“The broader community aspect is very attractive,” added Brian.  “We know we’re part of the whole.”

After visiting the barns, we got to see the pastures.

After visiting the barns, we got to see the pastures and the big cows.

I remember enjoying this tour a lot.  Pure Foods Colorado was the first of several farms I’ve seen that are run by families dedicated to making a simpler way of life.  They spend time together, rely on each other and their own hard work and teach their children what it means to be part of a community.  They have clear ideas about kindness to animals and using the land with respect.  They face the life and death struggles which are always on the surface of a farm with strength and equanimity.

I’m glad they’re out there, showing us all that we’re not trapped in an impersonal rat-race world, with their clean food, their pioneering spirit … and their baby cows.

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Ahavah Farm

It was Friday afternoon and I was driving.  I drove and drove until I got to Peyton, for the second time in two days.  I turned down the dirt road toward my destination and since no other car could be seen, I inched down the road looking at the house numbers.

I found it and was welcomed by children and chickens.

I found it and was welcomed by children and chickens.

Ahavah Farm is home to Yosef and Hava Camire, along with their four children, some happy dogs, more chickens than I could count (since they were always moving), a flock of ducks and two odd birds whose breed I cannot remember.

I only remember that the male seemed to be from another planet, like a turkey.

I only remember that the male seemed to be from another planet, like a turkey.

Yosef and Hava had invited me for Shabbat dinner, which I could not resist for many reasons.  Besides their warm friendliness, they are also part of a small group of Jewish farm enthusiasts like myself AND I have learned, as part of this enthusiasm for farms, that one should never decline an invitation for dinner at a farm because the food is better close to its source than anywhere else.  Farmers also know what to do with odd vegetables, like kohlrabi and turnip greens.  Hava’s cooking was no exception to this rule.  I convinced her to give me the recipe for her coconut cream mousse, which I’ll include at the end of this article.

Contrary to what you might think, I did more than eat.  I was also treated to a tour.

Contrary to what you might think, I did more than eat. I was also treated to a tour.

Yosef showed me around the farm while Hava finished the preparations for dinner and shooed persistent chickens off the deck.  The family had lived in Denver, but didn’t like city life and bought this property a couple years ago and Yosef has been fixing it up ever since.

“We really did this for our kids,” he explained.  Life in the country gives kids room to run around, gives rein to their imaginations and helps them learn about the natural world.  It also teaches them about hard work and where food comes from.

And they certainly are learning where food comes from!  The family sells their produce at the Colorado Farm and Art Market on Wednesdays at Ivywild School from 3PM – 7PM.  One week the children stopped by to chat with us at the Info Booth and told us a story about their youngest sibling.

“She pulled a carrot right out of the ground and ate it!”

The Camires are very passionate about social responsibility and bees.

The children are involved in most aspects of the farm, but not all.

Have you heard me tell people it’s our civic duty to keep bees in the city?  You may know that bees are having a hard time surviving and we can’t grow food without bees.  Yosef showed me the top bar beehives that he had built.  He sternly told the children to stay where they were and then we went out into the field where he opened up a hive.

“Want to get a picture of the inside?”, he asked.

I demurred.  It seems rude for a stranger to intrude on bees that way, so Yosef took the camera and put it in the hive.

I'm both impressed by his bravery and amazed at how the bees make this beehive shape.

I’m both impressed by his bravery and amazed at how the bees make this beehive shape inside the hive.

After visiting with the bees, we rejoined the children and Hava for dinner.  They are so kind and sociable that I couldn’t drag myself away to get home for Chicken Bedtime until the last possible moment.

Come by and visit this friendly family at the Colorado Farm and Art Market on Wednesdays and get some fresh, “beyond organic” produce.  After a few minutes, you’ll be well nourished with vegetables and kindness.

Read on for Hava’s remarkable vegan dessert recipe …

Vegan Coconut Cream Mousse

Ingredients:

1 can coconut milk
1/4 cup cocoa powder
maple syrup (or any sweetener) to taste

Let the can sit a while after you buy it so the cream separates.  Open the can, skim off the cream and refrigerate it for an hour or two, until it’s firm.  Add the cocoa powder and the sweetener.  Beat with a hand mixer or with a whisk until everything is incorporated and the mousse is just a little bit fluffy.  It won’t beat up like cream or egg whites, but you will see some air bubbles incorporated into it.  Chill until firm and serve with fresh fruit.  Warning: Do not leave the bowl out with a spoon handy.  If you’re like me, you’ll eat the whole thing in one sitting.

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs LOCAL Farms: Real Farmers Markets

Who can you trust?

Colorado Springs Local Business Daily Harvest Aquaponics RomaineYou may recall an article I wrote last year about a certain farmers’ market here in town that was selling produce from other states without making it clear to customers what they were buying!  I use an exclamation point because this is something of an outrage!  After all, if a “farmers market” sells the same produce as a grocery store, I’d rather go to the grocery store on my own schedule, rather than cram the visit into the four hours a week this “popup grocer” is open!

What’s worse is that they are capitalizing on the hard work of real farmers markets.  We’ve taught people to expect locally grown produce at a farmers market and these popup grocers don’t really tell customers that they are different.

So we’re back to the question … who can you trust?  I’m going to tell you.

Colorado Springs Local Farm 2015 Farmers Market Ad 4We have two farmers markets in Colorado Springs that only sell produce from farmers in Colorado.

  1. Colorado Farm and Art Market

You can find the Colorado Farm and Art Market on Wednesday at Ivywild School from 3PM – 7PM and at the Margarita at Pine Creek on Saturdays from 9AM to 1PM.  Their members include Venetucci Farm, Frost Farm, the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers co-op, Larga Vista Ranch, Ahavah Farm, Blue Skies Organic Vegetables and others who grow within driving distance of Colorado Springs.  You’ll also find Smith Farms and Hobbs Family Farm in the right season for Colorado garlic and fruit.

The season begins Wednesday June 10 and runs through October 13.

2. Downtown Sunday Market

The Downtown Sunday Market will take place in Acacia Park (where the Uncle Wilbur Fountain is, at Tejon & Bijou) every Sunday from 9AM – 2PM from June 14 through October 11.  Hunt or Gather manages this market.  They get the produce from the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers and other farms around the state that they have confirmed grow to their standards.

By supporting these markets, you’re supporting our Colorado economy, keeping farms viable in our state and voting for real Colorado food with your dollars.  Visit regularly, tell your friends, get to know your farmers.

Let’s support the kind of world where we can truly trust the people who sell us our food.

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Minibelly’s Farm

I asked Michael O’Malley of MInibelly’s Farm if the controversy and legal wrangling made him regret investing himself and his family in the tomato greenhouses in Black Forest.  His answer sticks with me.

“I believe the Lord wanted me to build it, so I built it,” he said, simply.

Maybe faith and the struggle to do something meaningful underlie all of the articles I write for this blog, but it is particularly salient in this one.  You see, the two families who run Minibelly’s set out with the excitement and hope typical of entrepreneurs.  They wanted to produce organic tomatoes for Colorado Springs and bring us another option for locally grown food.  It’s a noble enough goal, but since the county granted their permit, they’ve been under siege by some of its neighbors.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Minibellys Greenhouse 6

The greenhouse did not provide a clue when I drove past the farm on my way to the interview. I didn’t see it!

I can’t say I know the whole story.  You can read a well-written and balanced account on the Right to Thrive blog, but I’m too biased in favor of farming to be truly fair.  I can’t blame residents for fearing change around what is often a family’s biggest investment, their home, but I also can’t condone what amounts to harassment.  Minibelly’s followed the rules, the county approved their permit and they’ve won every lawsuit; but the group continues to raise money to take them to court yet again.

Rows and rows of tomatoes populate the greenhouse.

Rows and rows of tomatoes populate the greenhouse.

I asked Michael what made him want to start this business.

“I really found memories of my grandpa,” he said of his grandfather who had continued to farm in Chicago despite encroaching residential development. “He was in the middle of the city raising ducks and chickens and horses.”  He also told me of a desire to share his work with his wife, Nicole, and their children; something that wasn’t possible when he was a military intelligence officer.

Michael and his business partner, Ben Honken, had been working together at Summit Ministries when they discovered a common goal.  They wanted to be producers.  They wanted to build something and contribute something tangible to our community.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Minibellys TomatoesThey settled on farming, but the journey towards this goal was a long one.  Neither had much experience with agriculture as a business.  Michael had been in the Army until 2010 and was able to use the G.I. Bill to complete a Veterans to Farmers program to learn how to farm.  They had to find a way to finance the venture and that required a commitment of savings on the part of both families and they took out loans too.  Both men were longtime residents of Colorado Springs and they wanted to stay, but as anyone paying attention to agriculture in the Mountain West knows, farming isn’t easy out here.  Water rights, soil deficiencies and unpredictable weather make it difficult to start a new farm or keep an established one.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Minibellys Greenhouse 5As often happens in our modern world, technology offered assistance.  Ben and Michael discovered controlled agricultural greenhouses.  A greenhouse hydroponic system allows the farmer to control some of the growing conditions.  It uses less than a third of the water of traditional farming, nothing to sneeze at in a region where the seniority of your water rights can be the difference between growing food or a fallow field.

They decided to pursue it.  It would require intensive education in both agriculture and law, but would likely provide a more stable living for their families.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Minibellys Green Tomatoes 2Families?  Make no mistake, this is a story about two families, not just two entrepreneurs.  Each family lives in its own house on the farm’s property where Nicole O’Malley and Lydia Honken homeschool their respective children.  Those nine children have as much to lose as the adults.

“We’ve invested everything we have into making this successful,” Michael said of the partner families.

Today, the greenhouse is a reality.  I joined a tour and we walked around inside, breathing the humidified air and inspecting the soil-less plants.  I was surprised to feel a light rain during a discussion of pollination.  Michael explained that the humidification system detects when the air is too dry and adds moisture by “raining”.  Later, we heard a humming sound and panels at the top separated, making a long window.  The sun heats the space through the panels, like all greenhouses, but opens up when it gets too hot.

I was also surprised to see bees!  They pollinate the plants, just like they do outside.

I was also surprised to see bees! They pollinate the plants, just like they do outside.

The first crop of tomatoes is growing nicely and soon Minibelly’s tomatoes will be available at local grocery stores.  You can also buy them through Hunt or Gather’s Buying ClubMinibelly’s offers tours of the greenhouse, but you must contact them to schedule one.  Like all farmers, they are very, very busy.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Minibellys Suspicious chicken 2

Minibelly’s keeps a few chickens, but they are not allowed in the greenhouse.

I wish this didn’t have to be an article about local politics.  I’d rather have spent more words on the amazing technology or the way these families strengthen their relationships through shared work, but the attempts to put them out of business overwhelmed all of this.  If you’d like to help out, visit Minibelly’s GoFundMe site.  You can help by writing letters of support, donating to the fund or sharing the campaign site.

“I believe the Lord wanted me to build it, so I built it,” Michael said, an expression of faith in the face of adversity and impending disaster that I find to be stunning, beautiful and inspiring.  If we want local food, we need local farms.  If we want farmers to invest in our community, we need to support their right to grow unmolested.  If we want small businesses in our world, we need to buy from them.

If we don’t want to see farms disappearing, like Michael’s grandfather’s farm did after his death, we need to stand up for the ones we have.

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Mountain Goat Lodge

It was bound to happen sooner or later.  The chickens heard they could get better care (which translates to “more snacks” in the chicken mind), so they tried to send me to a class.

I went willingly.  I love classes in pretty places.

I went willingly. I love classes in pretty places.

They sent me to the Mountain Goat Lodge, a B&B near Salida, CO that really does have classes about backyard chickens!  Have you been thinking about getting dwarf goats for your homestead?  The Lodge also offers goat care classes!

Goat Closeup!

Goat Closeup!

Owner Gina Marcell teaches the classes and she’s particularly well qualified to help people keep goats.  She ran a goat rescue before she ran an inn, a line of work she got into because she had been rescuing dogs.  As fate would have it, she found herself taking in three orphaned baby goats; Tony, Sylvio and Pauly.

“I just fell in love,” she said.  “I quit doing dog rescue and started doing goat rescue.”

About five years ago, she bought the B&B and moved from Washington with 12 goats, 25 chickens, three dogs and a cat.  With 20 years of customer service experience, it was a natural transition and Gina makes guests feel at home.

Everyone lives peacefully on the property now, along with some new residents.

Everyone lives peacefully on the property now, along with some new residents.

She also makes breakfast …

We started with homemade yogurt.

We started with homemade yogurt.

And then we ate huevos rancheros with eggs from her chickens.

And then we ate huevos rancheros with eggs from her chickens.

And then we ate homemade cinnamon rolls!

And then we ate homemade cinnamon rolls!

I was delighted to learn that Gina also has experience as a barista!  I drank perfect latte after perfect latte.

And then I had to go run around with the dog.  That was a lot of caffeine and food.

As you can see here, I was the only one who had too much caffeine.

As you can see here, I was the only one who had too much caffeine.

We spent a lot of time outside.

These little pullets were wandering around all over the place.  Sometimes they would walk with us and join the conversation.

These little pullets were wandering around all over the place. Sometimes they would walk with us and join the conversation.

I also got to answer a burning question of mine, with Gina’s help.  I had picked up ducks for the first time a few days prior to our visit and was surprised to learn that ducks are squishy!  Was this true for all ducks?

I wanted to know if this was always true.

I annoyed one of these fellows by picking him up as a test.

Turns out it is true.  Ducks have a lot of fat and, unlike chickens, feel like a loosely stuffed toy bird.

We got to pick up the baby goats too.  They are not squishy, but they are extremely cute.

We got to pick up the baby goats too. They are not squishy, but they are extremely cute.

Gina loves working with animals and showing guests around.

If you go in the right season, you may also get to eat produce out of the Mountain Goat Lodge greenhouse!

If you go in the right season, you may also get to eat produce out of the Mountain Goat Lodge greenhouse!

You can tell she enjoys running her own business too.  She has dozens of improvement projects going on and is always adding classes and services.

You can stay in the beautiful lodge.

You can stay in the beautiful lodge.  Each room has its own balcony!

If you have a larger party, you can rent one of four trailers on the property.  They each have space to sleep three, a bathroom and a small kitchen!  Soon, a two bedroom trailer from the 1950s will be available too.  The Lodge offers classes, tours, a campfire on Saturday nights and plenty of time with animals.

Will my chickens get more snacks in the future?  Well, I was too busy playing with the pullets, ducks and goats to have time for a class.

My chickens will just have to send me back.

Colorado Springs Local Farm Mountain Goat Lodge Arkansas River

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: Daily Harvest Aquaponics

“Water is the new gold.”

That’s what Gavin and Marshea Vitt told me when I visited their warehouse…

Wait!  Stop, you say.  Warehouse?  I thought you said this was a farm!

It is a farm.

It is a farm.

Daily Harvest Aquaponics is a rare bird.  It’s an aquaponic farm inside of a warehouse.

Tilapia will tell you all about it.

Tilapia will tell you all about it.

An aquaponic system circulates water from fish to plants and back again.  The fish make the water nutritious for the plants and the plants make the water clean for the fish.  And it uses 10% of the water needed for land farming!

Like this!

Like this!  (The green things at the bottom aren’t cucumbers.  They’re bacteria added to change the nitrites to nitrates.)

I was struck by how clean this system is.  The Daily Harvest system filters out all the fish poop before sending the water to the plants.

Special tanks clean it up.

This is a lot cleaner than my chicken coop to compost system.

“So how did you find yourself in the world of aquaponic farming?”, I asked them.

“My first exposure to aquaponics was in an in-flight magazine on an airplane about two years ago,” responded Gavin.

That’s not the answer I expected!  Both Gavin’s and Marshea’s families have their roots in agriculture, but I guess in these high-tech days new ideas come from places our ancestors never even knew would exist!

For example, none of our great-grandmothers would recognize these high-tech, full-spectrum grow lights.

For example, none of our great-grandmothers would recognize these high-tech, full-spectrum color grow lights.

Gavin remembered the aquaponics article when his parents were trying to sell a warehouse during the real estate downturn.  It was a perfect fit!  Most aquaponics systems are set up in greenhouses, but he knew it could work in a warehouse.  They took classes, hired consultants who knew how to set up a successful warehouse system and ordered equipment!

It was a lot of equipment and, like all business investments, something of an act of faith in its potential for success.

It was a lot of equipment and, like all business investments, something of an act of faith in its potential for success.  “We believe in this and we’re committed,” says Gavin.

“The system was delivered on April Fools Day of 2014,” Marshea quipped.  She quit her corporate job to work on it with Gavin and his parents.

“It’s very, very different and it’s enabled me to do some things I really wanted to do,” she said of being part of the family business.  “I’ve been able to balance work and life much more easily.  Not to mention, our kids eat so well!”

They harvest vegetables every day.

They harvest vegetables every day.

The whole system is pretty fascinating.  It’s not certified organic, but the fish keep these farmers on a careful, bio-secure path.  The fish are adamant that they not add anything to the system that kills fish.  That means using natural pest control, like introducing ladybugs to control aphids.

The plant room has a system too.  Each plant starts in the plant nursery.

The plant room has a system too. Each plant starts in the plant nursery.

I tried to take a picture of the fish nursery, but the fish were too small.

I did get pictures of the friendly tilapia.  They swim up to the window to visit when they see people.

I did get pictures of the friendly tilapia. Unlike the standoffish striped bass, tilapia swim up to the window to visit when they see people.

You can sign up for a tour (and more thorough explanation of how the system works) on Daily Harvest’s website.  Don’t just stop by, though.  These farmers work just as hard as land farmers and can’t be available spontaneously.

Want to help Gavin, Marshea and the friendly fish be successful?  Ask your favorite restaurants where they are getting their greens and if it’s not a local source, suggest they give Daily Harvest Aquaponics a call!

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2015

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Colorado Springs Local Farm: C Squared Alpacas

I’ll just start this article by saying that my socks are better than your socks!

My socks are made out of alpaca (for softness) and wool (for warmth). The more I wash them, the softer they get!

My socks are made out of alpaca (for softness) and wool (for warmth). The more I wash them, the softer they get!

I got to visit C Squared Alpacas (a.k.a. C2 Alpacas) in Black Forest several times as part of a contract with the Colorado Department of Tourism.  Owners Chris and Christiann Schade wanted an agritourism marketing plan (which is something Hungry Chicken Homestead does for a living) and I … well, I wanted to pet an alpaca!

My wish was granted!  The C2 alpacas are friendly, silly and very, very soft when you pet them.

My wish was granted! The C2 alpacas are friendly, silly and very, very soft when you pet them.

Chris and Christiann know just about everything about alpacas, from their origins to how to make beautiful clothes & artwork from their fur.

Other animals live on the ranch too, like this llama and a pony who gives pony cart rides.

Other animals live on the ranch too, like this llama and a pony who gives pony cart rides.

You can visit the ranch on Saturdays and Sundays.  If you bring children, they can enjoy pony cart rides, taking an alpaca through an obstacle course and, of course, petting the alpacas.  Homeschoolers can make appointments for tours and educational experiences by calling the ranch.

The alpacas seem to enjoy the petting too.

The alpacas seem to enjoy the petting too.

Adults won’t be left out when visiting.  Chris has a wealth of knowledge about raising alpacas and you can buy animals to start your own herd.  He also raises the Maremma guardian dogs who protect the alpaca herd.

And Christiann is an artist who can teach you about felting with their big wet felting and dry felting machines!

Fiber art is well represented in the Fancy Fiber Farmstand on the property where you can buy alpaca hats, stunningly soft alpaca sweaters and my personal favorite, the alpaca-wool socks!  If you’re out holiday shopping anyway, why not include alpaca-petting in your plans and do some of the shopping at the farmstand?

(I’ll tell you why.  Because some people just end up buying soft socks for themselves.  That’s why!)

This alpaca is scolding me for forgetting to take pictures of the machines.  They are impressive!

This alpaca is scolding me for spending all my money on socks.

The Schades have big plans for their ranch.  Keep your eyes open for opportunities to stay in a Bed & Breakfast on their beautiful Black Forest property.  They also plan to offer wet felting and dry felting classes, as well as educational events for homeschoolers.

Everyone is welcome on the weekends, as this Maremma Dog is so beautifully expressing.

Everyone is welcome on the weekends, as this Maremma Dog is so beautifully expressing.

Visit their website or call the ranch at (719) 339-5229 for information.  It’s only about a 45 minute drive from downtown Colorado Springs and a lovely way to spend an afternoon.  You’ll come home with lots of soft, happy memories.

And socks.

***

©Hungry Chicken Homestead 2014

Join Chickens on the Mailing List to learn about Colorado Springs locally-owned businesses, keep up with local homestead & garden events and read stories about the hilarious homestead chickens.