“We’ve got this tradition all throughout agricultural history in North America of having to step up at different times to counter these corporate interests that want to take land, take water, take our resources, take our markets… And when needed, farmers come together. And this seems to be one of those times,” begins Real Organic Project farmer, Dan Hobbs.
Dan and Nanna of Hobbs & Meyer Farms in Avondale, Colorado grow heritage grains, garlic, pepper and seeds adapted to the arid Southwest. For them, the organic label has been invaluable. They sell their heirloom seed to National seed companies and their produce to big chains such as Whole Foods and Natural Grocers.
Dan Hobbs, Hobbs and Meyer Farms, Colorado
Dan Hobbs: We’ve got this tradition all throughout agricultural history in North America of having to step up at different times to counter these corporate interests that want to take land, take water, take our resources, take our markets.
And when needed, farmers come together. And this seems to be one of those times. And this is why we’re getting involved in the Real Organic Project and we’re interested to see where it goes.
I’m Dan Hobbs. This is Hobbs family farm in Avondale, Colorado Pueblo County. We’re about 15 miles east of the city of Pueblo.
We basically have evolved into three enterprises: One is our garlic deal, and another is fresh vegetables, and also open-pollinated seeds. And then lastly, just because we love the whole learning process of agriculture, we’re getting into heritage grains.
We have a very long growing season – we’re at about 4,600 feet. We have warm days, well hot days really, and cool nights. So that diurnal temperature swing really adds something special to the quality of the vegetables and the seeds.
We’ve got these silty, clay-loam, rocky ford soils that are classified as irrigated soils, “soils of national importance”. They’re very low in organic matter, but high in mineral content.
And we’ve basically set the farm up as a rotational system, kind of along the lines of the sort of conservation farms of the 1930s and 1940s following the Dust Bowl. A lot of the iconic dustbowl photos, in fact, were taken here in the Arkansas Valley on Black Sunday and out into the panhandle of Oklahoma.
So the system is basically divided up into five-acre fields; we have six 5-acre fields. One is in alfalfa grass, one is usually in an annual cover crop for plowed down peas and wheat that we keep our own seed from. And then we have a garlic/ allium field and then basically a pepper and mixed vegetable field, and then another veg seed field.
And then the last piece we’re about to put into a mulberry and pie cherry orchard.
This farm is really set up along the lines of what I would say is elemental agriculture.
We basically, in this five-year rotation that we have here, we spread aged manure on just before the garlic crop and then we have one full, 5-acre field that’s devoted to a plow down crop to the Austrian winter peas and a white winter wheat that we’ve been maintaining.
The constant rotation is the basis of our fertility program. Also, we don’t own our own livestock. And so we’ve made a relationship with a biodynamic farm down the road to graze their cattle here in the winter.
That’s been an important strategic relationship – to bring the animals onto the property without owning them and without all the headaches that go along with it. And the reason for that is because I work with the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union in the offseason and travel extensively, working with farm groups around the southwest.
And there’s no plastic on this farm, or at least not in the field. We’re flood irrigators and water deeply every ninth and 10th day. And we’re teaching these plants to work for a living.
It seems to be holding true that some of these seeds are adapting over time and are drought hardy and if they’re not we’re kicking them out of the mix. We’re trying to focus on plants that are climate change ready and ready for the harsh conditions that we encounter here in the southwest.
You know I think one of the things that interested me when I first got into farming and still holds my interest is this notion of the farm organism and individuality and all of the relationships that happen on the farm you know the relationships in the ecology of the agriculture.
The soil and the plants and animals and the insects and the farmer. And I just love that role of trying to guide this system. you know and always ever trying to improve the systems and the relationships in the farm organism.
The organic certification is still very valuable. Particularly like this garlic crop, one of our main activities here, we produce about 7,000 to 8,000 pounds annually and a lot of the seed-sized garlic goes to national – four or five national seed companies. They require that certification for their customers.
And so we’ve been certified now I guess for 18 years. And it’s largely because we market outside of our local region. We feel compelled to make it work, even though we’ve had lots of hard years and especially the last few years with the droughts and the flooding and the hail and all the other things we get around here, we want to demonstrate that it can work.
We are excited about all these young farmers that are coming on. And we want to we want to stay in and we want to mentor some of these people and share the seeds and share what skills and knowledge we can with some of these folks to help give them a leg up.
And this also really motivates me on the professional side with the Farmers Union work and the co-operative development work to help strengthen and establish these alternative systems, so that people that want to do it can stay into it and get into it. So we’re going to stick with it.
And then just this ongoing challenge of encouraging and facilitating the relationships on our piece of ground are just endlessly gratifying and we learn something every year.
And we still try something every year. That keeps it fresh and exciting for us.