Homegrown Farm in is run by Emily and Mike Jensen, who are absolutely passionate about what they do. This is their tenth season on their 12 acre farm, 2 ½ of which is under production for vegetables. A visit to their farm in Bayfield was a wonderful experience, highlighting how efficient a small farm can be if you are lucky enough to have two people who have dedicated their careers to it. Not to say that Mike and Emily are not extremely busy, because they are. They also have two young boys, Kanan and Gavin, and since they live on their farm, the lines between parenting and farming often get crossed. When I asked Mike how many hours a week he works, he laughed and said, “Oh Goodness. I try not to think about it. I am always working. I am taking care of the kids while I am washing lettuce. If I really had to put a number on it…well, it has to be over 80.” Despite the long hours and hard work, they make it look appealing and easy. Their farm is absolutely beautiful, with neatly planted rows of vegetables and a very tidy washing station. Their kids are well-behaved, charming and could probably teach most of us a thing or two about vegetables.
Both Mike and Emily are from California, although much different areas of the state. Mike is from Los Angeles, while Emily from Lake Tahoe. They met in Santa Cruz, California, where they both were geologists. From there, they traveled a lot together and eventually landed themselves as interns on a large farm in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. After that experience they knew that they wanted to be small farmers, and wanted to buy land in Colorado. They looked all over Colorado before settling in Bayfield. They both started out working other jobs and farming on the side before they were able to commit full-time to their farm. As Mike puts it, they have no “plan B,” meaning that they do not have a back-up plan. They intend to make being farmers not only their jobs, but the centerpiece to their lifestyle, for as long as they can.
Homegrown Farm follows a “biodynamic” model, a somewhat complicated method that involves a homeopathic approach to the longevity and sustainability of the soil. It uses what is called “preparations” to keep the soil fertile and to enhance the quality and flavor of the food. These “preparations” are made from fermented manure, minerals and herbs. There is a lot more that goes into the Biodynamic method. If you would like to learn more about biodynamics, please visit www.biodynamics.com/what-is-biodynamics.
Mike and Emily grow twenty five different crops for their CSA, which has twenty-five members. This is the last year they will participate in a CSA, with the intention of producing more crops for the Southwest Farm Fresh Cooperative next year. Homegrown produce can also be found at the Durango Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings. Homegrown produces eight different crops for Farmer’s Market, including carrots, salad mix, beets, kale and winter squash. The couple hires about five employees during the peak season in addition to five to six work-trades. “I haven’t found the right spot quite yet for how many workers to hire to make a profit,“ Mike says. “The more workers, the more food, but not necessarily more profit.” Mike looks forward to having his kids being his farm hands when they get older. “In four more years, we will have some free labor. It is called chores,” he says with a smile.
When I asked Mike what his favorite crop is, he answered, “Garlic. It is the odd one. It is truly seed selecting-choosing the best seeds for the following year. The garlic gets better each year, more accustomed to our soil.” Emily likes the winter squash. “I love it,” she says. “It keeps forever, it is versatile, you can eat the whole vegetable including the seeds, and it is amazing how much food you get from one plant.”
According to Mike, the most difficult part of being a small farmer is the unpredictable factors, such as the weather, as a short-term challenge and learning how to sustain themselves with only their farm as a long-term challenge. “One storm can wipe out your whole season. The season can be shorter than expected. Also, we can’t support ourselves on just farming right now. We need to find out how to do it right.” “A lot of Americans do not value their food and do not want to pay for it,” Emily adds. “We do this (farm) for our lifestyle and our family, and for people who value food can also buy from us. We feed about 50 families, but it needs to be 50,000 to change the way people think about food.”
Mike and Emily divide up the work list so that they each have separate duties on the farm. Mike is in charge of the fields, while Emily takes control of the processing (washing and bagging produce) and is also in charge of the house. Mike smiles as he remembers when they first started and they did everything together. “We both touched every carrot at first,” he says. Now, splitting things up gives them a little bit of separation in their day. “It is so cool to be able to work and support ourselves as a family. I get to see my kids all the time,” Mike adds. “Homesteading is our passion,” Emily says. “Growing vegetables is our business because it is the best way we can make a living out of our homestead. We want a diversified farm. It has already evolved so much and it will continue to change.”