Kellie Pettyjohn, owner and operator of The Wily Carrot, is a young farmer who has an impressively strong interest in community unity. Her farm is located in Mancos, Colorado and is complete with three greenhouses, a cool room for storing produce after it has been harvested, an orchard with apple, cherry and pear trees, a beautiful view of Mesa Verde and 2 acres of produce under production. She has been farming for 6 years, 5 of which she has owned her own business. She is from Virginia originally and moved to Mancos in 2009 to participate in the World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (aka Willing Workers on Organic Farms or WWOOF) program. This is a program that has participants all over the world that helps link up people who own farms and need labor with those “workers” who are interested in learning about organic farming. The WWOOF program aims to help volunteers get first-hand experience with organic farming and to help the organic movement gain momentum. The “worker” generally does not get paid, but works in exchange for food, accommodation and knowledge. To learn more about the WWOOF program, visit their website at www.wwoof.net. Kellie worked under Dave Banga, another farmer in Mancos, and although she originally meant to live in Mancos for only one season, ended up falling in love with both being a farmer and with Mancos. She was anxious to get her business going, and started Wily Carrot in 2010, with only one season of experience under her belt. This is a woman with a lot of enthusiasm and motivation! This year, Kellie was even able to buy her own property.
Kellie does most of the work on the farm herself, only hiring two workers per week. “It’s a lot of work but I am surviving!” she says with a smile. “I am trying this year to focus on my personal sanity. I am keeping my weekly hours down to 55-60 hours a week. I take Saturday and Sunday off. Getting into the mountains on the weekends is what saves me.”
Kellie grows about 12 varieties of vegetables on her farm, including 15 different types of tomatoes! Although she tries to keep the number of varietals down, she still leaves some room to have fun and grow a few different things for “testing,” as she puts it. This year, she had a friend who, while visiting California, ate a particularly delicious watermelon. The watermelon was so good, he saved the seeds and gave them to Kellie to plant in her greenhouse. Now she has a huge, delicious-looking watermelon plant with several not-quite-ripe watermelons. I hope to get a taste one of those melons when they are ready! Kellie also has an entire greenhouse dedicated just to peppers and one for her many types of tomatoes. She plans to keep farming as long as she can this fall, with spinach and other greens ready to plant in her greenhouse.
When I asked Kellie what her favorite crop is, she had to think for a few moments before answering, “I’m going to say tomatoes. I get attached to them. Some crops, like lettuce, come and go real quick. But the tomatoes, those guys have been with me since back in February when I planted them. I like to baby them.”
Kellie participates in the Farm to School program, which helps get local food into school and educate students about sustainability and agriculture. The Farm to School program brings schools and farmers together and build a stronger community.
According to Kellie, the biggest challenge of being a small farmer is “having to do everything-remembering everything you have to do…planting, watering, weeding, harvesting, marketing, entering everything into Quickbooks to keep track of my business. That is why the co-op is so great. They help take some of the load off so I don’t feel as pressured to do it all. I also love the sense of unity among farmers. I used to feel like I was a little bit alone, but now with the co-op, I feel like my fellow farmers are around for support. They co-op creates a collective for farmers to get together to feed our neighbors.”