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The Agrarians: Three farm stands on HWY 50 chase the American dream

An NPR correspondent was chattering over the whining of my car’s air conditioner about the reauthorization of the Farm Bill. The red team wants to add incentives to benefit agribusinesses and mega-farms. The blue team wants to add incentives that strengthen family farms, public health and rural communities. This Farm Bill conversation, held every four years, inspired me to drive east along Highway 50 to visit our local farmers markets.
I arrived first at Larson’s Garden on the outskirts of Fowler. A tail wagging, black and white dog greeted me as I scrutinized the wooden structure, its protective tarps fallen, that contained for-sale peppers, tomatoes and flowers. Kim and Nancy, the owners, have been farming in Fowler for 16 years, but these are tough times.

Kim, who no longer has a right foot, spoke about the extreme drought and about limited access to Colorado’s water. “Four hours every eight days,” he said, “and starting at the end of August, that allotment drops to only four hours every sixteen days.”

But Kim and Nancy are not discouraged, even though coyotes pilfer an average of five watermelons a night. “We’re going to have a good harvest,” they said, “we’ve learned to plant produce and flowers that will tolerate a drought.” In fact, Kim started out as a cactus grower, which explains the large greenhouse full of exotic cacti.

I found Knapps Farm Market, west of Rocky Ford, bustling with customers, farmhands and salespeople. I watched as buyers loaded their arms with Rocky Ford cantaloupes and as farmhands filled cardboard boxes full of the sweet smelling fruit for Pueblo, Colorado Springs or even California.

Knapps’ prices were amazing: a cantaloupe for a $1 or two for a $1.50, Sweet Spanish onions $19 per burlap sack and a 10 pound bag of pinto beans for $11.50. After tasting Knapps’ free samples, I read the labels of their homemade jams, and I laughed when one customer declared, “I like their watermelons; they’re pretty.”

My final stop was Sackett’s Farm Market. Exiting my vehicle, I reflected on the Farm Bill.  It’s supposed to level playing fields, provide fair markets, promote environmental stewardship and encourage sustainable farming. Unfortunately, the Farm Bill was supposed to do all that and more in ’08, ’04 and every year it has come up for debate since 1933, never having delivered its full promise.

At Sackett’s, I met Tita (Auntie: a title respectfully bestowed upon older Filipino ladies) Leonida. Tita Leonida has worked this same fruit stand for thirty years. Some unfortunate events led to her arrival in Colorado via the Philippines then California, but she is glad that her son, so many years ago, begged for a watermelon and then forgot his wooden car at this same fruit stand where she would meet Bill, her current husband, and where she now sells produce only to passersby, not to grocers or large markets.

Tita Leonida enthusiastically explained that cantaloupes are her best selling product, despite last year’s Holly Farm’s scandal. She asked me about my family, and she cried when I spoke of my mother. She told me how she helps her family in the Philippines by paying for members to attend nursing and computer school. She talked about her bringing her parents, her brothers and their families to America to farm and to earn quality educations.

By the end of our conversation, I understood the reality of the “American Dream” that politicians go on about. I usually peruse Pueblo’s Thursday evening Farmers’ Market at the Riverwalk, which features produce from Musso’s, Marrows’ and other farms.

Pueblo’s farmers market season will end in September and by October most other markets will have packed up to reopen again next summer, which still allows ample time for you to visit any of these local markets as they await the verdict – will big business crush the small farmer, will more food be used for alternative fuels, will water rights continue to be taken away – of the Farm Bill.

 

By James Seal

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