The Old Fort
The Old Fort at Hesperus is a growing and multi-faceted answer to farmer training in the Four Corners region. Welcoming everyone from college interns for brief summer experiences to incubator farmers ready to start a business, the Old Fort offers good (and challenging) growing conditions, supportive and knowledgeable staff, and rich resources for high elevation market farming.
The Old Fort at Hesperus is offering two different farming opportunities for the 2018 growing season:
Farmer in Training: For those who need more experience before beginning their own business. Farmers-in-training (FIT) work 2-3 days per week, both in the Education Garden learning farming skills and co-managing a ¼ acre plot with other FITs. Crops in the ¼ acre plot may include onions, winter squash, zucchini, snap peas, green beans, potatoes, carrots, beets, kale and broccoli. FITs will also care for a small perennial plot, which may include raspberries, thyme, lavender, garlic, and flowers. Experience in the education garden and FIT plot will range from harvesting greens to fixing drip irrigation, from planting peppers to packing CSA bags. In addition to winter educational classes, monthly informal classes will be offered during work hours, including pump maintenance, harvesting and food safety, direct seeding, and other topics with hands-on components. Learning farming skills that will support them in the future, FITs will be able to plan and run irrigation, select varieties, manage weeds, and harvest, process and market many different crops.
Farm Incubator: For those who are ready to take the next step toward your goal of operating a farm in Southwest Colorado. This program provides educational classes, access to land, water and much needed infrastructure (irrigation, post-harvest sheds, coolers and root cellar). You will join a team of farmers on 6.5 acres who run independent businesses but also cooperate with each other to produce a variety of foods at 7,600 feet. Marketing assistance is available through the Old Fort Market Gardens brand to access Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shares as well as providing produce to Sodexo, the campus dining service at Fort Lewis College.
Participants for the 2018 Growing Season have been selected. Please review documents and consider applying for the 2019 growing season.
Application for Farmer in Training Program PDF Version Word Version
Application for Market Garden Incubator Program PDF Version Word Version
Applications for 2019 will be due in December of 2018. Contact Beth LaShell at email@example.com or 970-385-4574 for more information
To offer an alternative point of entry for beginning farmers in the Four Corners region, providing them with access to support services that enable them to develop the skills necessary to succeed.
2009: Incubator concept introduced to Task Force as a long term idea for Old Fort property. Parcel known as upper seedhouse was identified because it served as the college gardens prior to 1956 and was close to an irrigation ditch fed by the Taylor Spring.
2010: LaBoca Center for Sustainability dissolves and offers grant opportunity for sustainable agriculture projects. Request was submitted to create needed infrastructure including wildlife fencing and basic irrigation structures for $18,000.
2011: Old fence and oakbrush was removed surrounding the 6.5 acre plot. Wildlife fencing construction around perimeter began in May and 2.5 acres were plowed and disked. Mike Nolan began as the trial incubator helping to set up irrigation, planting schemes and growing models. Initial phase of fence was completed in June. Irrigation lines, a gas pump and overhead impact sprinklers were purchased. Root crops were grown on 2.5 acres with good success. Beth LaShell submitted a grant to Colorado Department of Agriculture Specialty Crop block grant program to provide training, equipment and mentorship for participants. The Specialty Crop grant was selected and will support the program through 2014.
2012: Ditches were cleaned during the off-season. Gates were constructed. 2400’ of gated pipe was purchased and a diversion box was installed so that lower part of field could be more easily flood irrigated. Second year of trial incubation added SouthWest Conservation Corp growing produce on a 1/8 of an acre that was donated to the USDA Commodity food distribution in June and September. Small equipment was purchased including tiller for BCS-type tractor and hand tools (rakes, shovels, hula hoes).
2013: First class of market garden incubators were selected and completed training. 3/8 of an acre of drip irrigation was added on the North end of the field. Incubator participants formed the Old Fort Market Garden Cooperative to allow them to purchase general and product liability insurance as a group.
2014: Expanded drip irrigation to ½ acre and converted 1 acre of flood to overhead. Installed 12x12 walk-in cooler and 12 x 20 cold storage. Received second Specialty Crop Block Grant to assist with marketing and promotion. Come Alive Outside plot established to provide rural access to fresh food. Ten incubators in program.
2014: Expanded drip irrigation to ½ acre and converted 1 acre of flood to overhead. Installed 12x12 walk-in cooler and 12 x 20 cold storage. Received second Specialty Crop Block Grant to assist with marketing and promotion. Come Alive Outside plot established by La Plata County 4-H to provide rural access to fresh food. Ten participants in program.
2015: Expanded drip irrigation to 1 acre. Added hand washing stations to fields and upgraded potable water system for wash station. Developed Old Fort Market Garden logo and promotional materials and began a Summer and Fall CSA utilizing produce from incubators and the education gardens. Major upgrades were made to root cellar space. Seven participants in the program.
2016: Expanded drip irrigation to 1.25 acres. Summer CSA (40 shares), Fall CSA (20 shares), sales to Sodexo and four different farm stands utilized produce from farmers. The 12 x 20 cold storage is converted to cooler space and additional upgrades made to root cellar. Farmer in Training pilot project conducted for people who needed more experience before starting independent farming businesses. Six incubator farmers and 3 Farmers in Training complete the program.
Fields to Plate Produce (Max Fields and James Plate): Established 2013
Fields to Plate Produce is an up and coming force in the farming world. Based high in the Southern San Juan Mountains we use morph our crop plan and marketing according to our environment. Utilizing root and cole crops in addition to cold storage root cellaring we can stretch our seasonal range to 6 months. Maintaining organic practices and an attentive care for the soil is at the core of our business. We believe that organic farming can feed us all and we are constantly striving to achieve local food security in our community and surrounding regions. Fields to Plate is ever progressing and it is our hope to always expand and grow.
4-H Giving Back Garden (Greg Felsen): Established 2014
The La Plata County 4-H Giving Back Garden is excited to produce fresh, healthy, local vegetables for our community in 2015. Our garden plot acts as both an educational and production agriculture site. We will continue to focus on growing food for the USDA Commodity Food Distribution “Produce Bounty” program as well as for local community outreach organizations. In 2015, we will also further our efforts to engage youth in our community through hands-on garden projects that teach healthy living skills.
High Pine Produce ( Max Kirks): Established 2016
High Pine Produce believes in adding to a vibrant food system in the Four Corners while embracing local landscapes and heritages. It is our goal to provide consistently fresh leafy greens using appropriate technologies and organic farming practices. Experience the highest quality produce grown at high elevation with a touch of youthful spirit.
Alkali Gulch Farm (Candice Wood): Established 2016
As sixth generation farmers in the High Mountain Desert near Durango, CO, we produce flavorful, high-quality dryland pinto beans, wheat, sweet corn and melons. We are committed to our land, family, community and customers. To maintain the ecological capital of our soils, we use traditional farming practices including crop rotation and seed saving. We use traditional ecological knowledge of our area to produce culturally rich vegetables with the unique taste of our lands.
Farmer in Training Program: Established 2016
Farmers-in-training (FIT) work 2-3 days per week, both in the Education Garden learning farming skills and co-managing a ¼ acre plot with other FITs. Crops in the ¼ acre plot may include onions, winter squash, zucchini, snap peas, green beans, potatoes, carrots, beets, kale and broccoli. FITs will also care for a small perennial plot, which may include raspberries, thyme, lavender, garlic, and flowers. Experience in the education garden and FIT plot will range from harvesting greens to fixing drip irrigation, from planting peppers to packing CSA bags. Once per month, informal classes will be offered during work hours, including pump maintenance, harvesting and food safety, direct seeding, and other topics with hands-on components. Learning farming skills that will support them in the future, FITs will be able to plan and run irrigation, select varieties, manage weeds, and harvest, process and market many different crops.
Mountain Roots Produce (2011-2013): Mike Nolan
Laughing Wolf Farm (2013): Leeann Hill
Terra Nova Gardens (2013): Chris Brussat
Linger Flower Co (2013-2014): Emily Lloyd and Audrey Preston
Axe Handle Farms (2014): Betzi Sherman
Odd Bird Farms (2014): Julia Hastings-Black
Unaccompanied Farmer (2014-2015): Brian Willemin
VanSickle Farms (2014-2015): Aaron VanSickle
Wild Soul Farms (2015): Danielle Duni