Marybeth Gentry, of Eagle Tree Farm, has her work cut out for her. She is the only full-time employee on her 5 acre plot located in the beautiful valley between Dolores and Cortez, Colorado. She grows over 30 different types of vegetables, including (but not limited to) raspberries, carrots, tomatillos, fennel, green beans, corn, bell peppers, turnips, squash, spinach, basil and 5 different types of tomatoes. One varietal of tomato is called a Pomodoro, the seeds of which were sent from her sister in Italy! Not only does she grow all of this delicious, organic food, but Marybeth also raises 60 chickens (15 different breeds!), 9 turkeys, two horses, named Cody and Dove, and runs a 3 acre hay production. She also has plans to plant an orchard on her property. Let’s just say Marybeth is full of passion for what she does, and a lot of motivation!
Marybeth uses organic practices, including making her own compost and planting marigolds within her crops to ward off pests. When asked how many hours a week she puts onto her farm, she responds with a laugh and says “Oh my goodness! I don’t keep track! It is more of a style of life than a job.” Although it is a lot of work, it is obvious on a visit to Eagle Tree Farm that Marybeth absolutely loves what she does. The farm is absolutely gorgeous, and it just feels wonderful to spend time there. Marybeth worked in construction, running heavy equipment for many years before she decided to change her lifestyle. She is a licensed grading contractor and owned her own business in California before moving to Colorado. Marybeth and her husband moved to their current property in 2003 but she did not become a full time farmer until four years ago. “I have worked hard my whole life to do this,” says Marybeth of her farm. “I had the resources. My husband is a huge resource. He builds everything. I love it. It is hard work and not the same money that I used to make but I love it.” Marybeth gets help on her farm from her husband, who also has a full time job, her adult daughter and her sister, who lives in Dolores and who has a small plot of Marybeth’s property. Marybeth only has one paid employee, Macy, who works at Eagle Tree three days a week.
As Marybeth guides me through her neatly planted rows of incredible-looking food, my mouth starts to water and couldn’t hide my excitement when she picked a few varieties of tomatoes and green beans for me to munch on during my tour. They are just as delicious as they look! Marybeth chooses to have a shorter growing period for her tomatoes, plating them outside instead of in a greenhouse. “They just don’t have the same flavor if they grow inside,” she explains. Next, Marybeth proudly shows me the tools that her husband has built just for her to use on her farm. A custom made garden hoe does just exactly what she needs. Marybeth speaks of each plant, each vegetable with respect and admiration. She tells me about all the delicious food she likes to make with each item, especially the salsas. When I asked her what her favorite crop she grows is, she surprised me by responding, “Flowers! I love flowers. My favorite are the Cosmos. No wait, my favorite are the Bright Lights. Then Cosmos.” Marybeth’s farm is beautifully arranged with bright flowers around each fence and even within her rows of crops. Her farm looks like it was designed for farm tours! Marybeth plans to extend her growing season well into the fall this year, so that she will have greens still available after most people have stopped growing them. Her new greenhouse is under construction and she has already planted her spinach for the fall.
In the chicken coop, Marybeth knows all the names of her hens. “Hi Gracie!” she says as she opens the door. She turns to me to inform me that Gracie is her favorite hen. She collects the eggs three times per day because if the eggs sit for too long, the chickens will eat them! Marybeth’s chickens produce 39 eggs a day on average and she has no problem selling the eggs to local restaurants.
Marybeth is part of the Colorado Farm to School Project in Montezuma County, an organization that aims to involve students, teachers, parents and local producers for a dynamic approach to sustainable food production and conservation. The Farm to School Project includes farm field trips, summer camps, in-class farmer visits, school gardens and after-school programs. It helps get local food into schools and to educate students about sustainability. To learn more about Colorado Farm to School, visit www.coloradofarmtoschool.org.
“The biggest challenge (of being a small farmer) is finding labor…the right kind of labor. People who care about what they do. I hate drama and try to avoid it if I can.” Marybeth sells her products at the Mancos Farmer’s Market on Thursdays from 4:30-6:30, through the Farm to School Project and through the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative. “Everything I do every day is for the co-op,” she says. “I do it for all of us. For local food. Because it is important.”
Marybeth’s Favorite Salsa:
2 1lb Roma-type tomatoes
1-2 Cloves Garlic
1 Small Onion
2-3 Jalapeño Peppers
1 Serrano Chili
1 Bunch Cilantro
Simply use a food processor to lightly chop or chop all ingredients. Then add:
2 Tbs. Lemon Juice or Vinegar
½ Tsp. Coriander (optional)
1 Tsp. Sugar
This is a wonderful recipe for canning or to enjoy on the spot!