I have nibbled on a slice of La Plata County’s agricultural pie, represented by the farmers and ranchers at the Durango Farmers Market.
This is just a snapshot, from one angle, of what is most certainly a larger picture of agriculture in the county. I have found interesting similarities in all my interviews. There are binding characteristics that paint a picture of the individuals who labor to grow and produce food to be sold to their neighbors in a direct, face-to-face setting.
These are farmers producing on a relatively small scale. Their land may be bigger than an average backyard gardener’s plot, but they are a far cry from commodity-crop farmers.
They see themselves practicing sustainable agriculture. Their techniques are physically labor-intensive, but they avoid practices such as pesticides, herbicides, fertilizers and animal pharmaceuticals, which may be detrimental to our health and the environment.
The farmers focus on the health-promoting virtues of their food, and enjoy the role they play in education of their customers, schoolchildren and the community.
Many have chosen farming or ranching as a second career, perhaps entered after retirement or practiced along with another career. They have made the decision to go into agriculture – not necessarily inheriting the position.
Self-educated, the farmers are lifelong learners, keen to try new things and take chances. They are passionate about their work. Like many farmers, they live with a moderate income, but per acre they often produce some of the highest yields in agriculture.
They universally see themselves as providing a benefit to the community, and it is this aspect they find most rewarding. This community tie runs both ways.
Though we often tout the importance to the consumer of knowing where their food comes from, it is the connection the farmer feels with his customer that provides satisfaction to keep him in the business. It is the beauty of direct marketing that connects people in this way, adding a dimension to our social fabric based on our common interest in food.
And to answer the perennial question: What do farmers do in the winter? Here’s a list compiled from the hardy souls bundled up to sell vegetables at 27 degrees last Saturday morning: “In the winter we compost the soil, do inventory, review notes, make seed orders, grow in greenhouses, tend and breed livestock, continue to sell our products at the winter farmers markets and to restaurants, go back to off-season jobs in town, enjoy vacations, ski, sleep and rest, because before we know it spring will be here, seeds will need to be planted, young animals cared for and the cycle will begin again.”
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.