At Schwebach's Cedar Hill Farm, you can see what it's like to start from the ground up.
As Durango Farmers Market producers in their first year of business, Michael and Diane Schwebach are eager for feedback and are taking careful notes of what pleases customers.
"I'm thinking next year we'll do without the yellow squash; we can't sell much of it with so many others also offering the early-summer vegetable," said Michael Schwebach. "But the heirloom tomatoes, some of the first to appear at the market this year, have been selling like hotcakes. The yellow Taxi variety is as sweet as it is colorful."
For the Schwebachs, retirement didn't last long. After buying land at Cedar Hill just south of the New Mexico state line four years ago, they have evolved from a large backyard garden to a small-scale market garden encompassing one-quarter acre. Included is a heated greenhouse, allowing an early start for tomatoes. They avoid pesticides, herbicides and standard fertilizers, and are experimenting with different types of irrigation and plastic used for weed control. It has been a turnaround in farming philosophy, but one they have welcomed.
They both came from traditional farming backgrounds. Michael waspart of a family business that farmed 1,500 acres, producing hay and corn for silage to be sold to dairy farms like the one where Diane grew.
"We used all the usual agricultural chemicals, and it wasn't the healthiest way to farm. It didn't feel good," she said.
Now they are growing food for people to eat directly, and they feel what goes into their produce really matters.
The Schwebachs are a small part of a bigger movement that is reassessing the impact large-scale agribusiness has on land, natural resources and consumer health. They have made the personal decision to contribute, on a small scale, to a healthy local-food system. It's a conversation government leaders are having, as well: How do we feed ourselves in a sustainable way, keeping in mind issues such as food safety and energy costs, and do it without relying on unrealistic subsidies? For now, Michael and Diane are happy to be a modest part of a greater solution. Find them at the Wednesday and Saturday Durango Farmers Markets, or call them at Cedar Hill Farm (505) 334-5111.
Marje Cristol owns Linnaea Farm in Durango and sells cut flowers and goat-milk cheeses. She also serves on the Durango Farmers Market board. Reach her at 946-2712 or marje@LinnaeaFarm.com.