By Rachel Turiel
If you’ve ever waited on line, anxiously, for a limited 20-pound bag of Stone Free Farm fall carrots – pacing like a junkie – only to find they’ve sold out in fifteen minutes, you are not alone.
The lucky ones stroll away grinning, like they’ve just bought 20 pounds of endorphins, or sunk some cash in the savings plan: Root Vegetable Security. And you may wonder, “what is it,” about those orange missiles of beta-carotene that sell out every week, May through October, totaling 16,000 pounds of carrots (at $2 per pound) by season’s end?
“I’m not sure I understand it,” Chuck Barry shrugs over the carrot craze, while his wife and farming partner, Rosie Carter, attributes it to the deep red soil, literally “stone free” and walloped with soil nutrients. Though, she adds, “it’s nothing we’ve ever tried to push.”
For those of us who’ve highlighted passages in Barbara Kingsolver’s DIY farming tome, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle; who swoon over baskets of colorful abundance at our local farmers market; who harbor a sleepy seed of a dream about quitting the office and starting a small organic farm, Chuck offers a free reality check. “I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count how many farms have come and gone since we began farming,” he says, which is precisely 19 years on Stone Free Farm in Arriola, Colorado, northwest of Cortez. And, I would wager, neither are there enough digits to list all the reasons why the real work of farming can crush every dreamy illusion to dust.
However, Stone Free Farm is one of the top-grossing farms in Montezuma County, which is saying a lot, considering its small size of two acres. I had the pleasure of interviewing Chuck and Rosie in their cozy farm house ten years ago, and though, shockingly, we’ve all aged imperceptibly since then, much has changed in the nature of their farm season. Chuck and Rosie work less (an unusually decent 40 hours per week), farm less land, have more employees, and net more income than ever before.
It’s because they’ve been patient students in the economics of their farm – “it’s a business,” Rosie reminds – that they’ve been able to steer the ship of their farm into such fortunate waters. “We keep meticulous records,” says Rosie. They could tell you what they grossed in bok choi sales in a particular weekend in 2005, which is the precise information they’ve used to optimize their business. Or put simply, rather than grow ten varieties of eggplant in every gorgeous, earthy shade, they grow what sells best, using the least amount of land and time, and they grow a lot of it.
Chuck and Rosie plant a succession of new seeds every week, ensuring that there is always a full market-stand of crops ready to harvest. Lettuce, arugula, radishes, and Asian greens all have a quick turnover at approximately one month and are always in demand. They sell 200 pounds of salad mix (at $4 a pound) every week; for a visual, that’s 270 gallons of dainty leaves.
Running their farm like a business doesn’t detract from the joy of farming; it assures that Stone Free Farm will be around for a long time. Chuck and Rosie love the farming lifestyle: working outside, the ag community, schmoozing with customers, and the gift of time for winter pursuits. For Chuck, this includes being singer/songwriter of the acclaimed alt-country band, Beautiful Loser Society; and for Rosie, making art (see her work at ruralunderground.com). Other than a refrigerated truck, the only thing on their current wish list is a six-hour workday. In time, undoubtedly.
At the interview’s end, Chuck and Rosie send me off with Beautiful Loser Society’s new CD and a bag of carrots. Yes, those carrots. It’s February at the time and a full 96 days, 3 hours and 12 minutes since I’ve last chomped into a Stone Free Farm carrot. I can hardly remember what the hype is about. I tote the bag of bright roots home and my kids descend on them like they’ve been withering from nutritional deficiencies all winter. The carrots, harvested a full four months ago and stored in a root cellar, are amazingly juicy, crisp and sweet. We mean to horde them, parceling out these gems of the earth, but we finish the entire one-pound bag over lunch.
Look for carrots, and other Stone Free Farm delectables, at the Durango and Cortez farmers market sometime in May.