Incubator Program

Take the first step

We welcome one to four new incubator farms each growing season. Applications are due in December or January, so don't wait to take this transformative step in your farming journey. Contact the Old Fort Program Director to start your application.

Cultivate your farming future in the Four Corners

Are you poised to take the next step toward your dream of operating a sustainable farm in Southwest Colorado? Since 2013, the Old Fort Market Garden Incubator Program has paved the way for aspiring farmers like you.

With our comprehensive approach, we provide educational classes, vital resources like land and water access, and essential infrastructure—including irrigation systems, harvest sheds, coolers, and root cellars. Plus, you'll receive invaluable marketing assistance to get your produce to the people most need it.

Incubator farmers work together in the "incubator field," running independent businesses and sharing infrastructure and knowledge. In your first year, start with a plot size of 1/16 to 1/8 acre and grow your business from there.

Farmers harvesting greens in a field

About the program

Our mission is clear: to offer an innovative entry point for beginning farmers in the Four Corners region, equipping you with the support services and skills necessary for a flourishing agricultural career.

Over the years, we've seen more than a dozen graduates from our program successfully expand their businesses or continue to make impactful strides in food and farming. 

Our Alumni

Who we're looking for

This program is tailored for individuals with a solid farming foundation, particularly in climates similar to high-elevation desert farming. You're an ideal candidate if you're self-motivated, work well independently or with a partner, and are driven to establish a farm business that will thrive in the Four Corners region and possibly even further afield.

If you're new to farming but eager to learn, our FIT program is worth exploring.

  • Required participation in the Spring Farmer Training Immersion/Farm Planning Course (10 weekly class sessions from February through April, Tuesdays from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.)
    • Course fees: Grant funding covers the cost for 2024
    • New incubators must attend all class sessions
    • Successful completion of classes and assignments is required before full acceptance into the program.
  • Incubator orientation: May 1 (9 a.m. – 3 p.m.)
  • Incubators begin in the field: May 1
  • Partial attendance at FIT Orientation required on Thursday, May 16, 9 a.m.‐12 p.m.
  • Incubators are required to take at least one of the following four Summer Short Courses and are encouraged to take more than one:
    • Session 1: Tools of the Trade or Intro to Market Farming
    • Session 2: Seed to Seed: Plant Basics for Farmers or Growing Specialty Crops at High Elevation
    • Course Fees: Grant funding covers the cost for 2024
  • Attend Farmer Training Convergence (no cost, lunch provided) – August 30‐31
  • Incubators finish in the field: October 1

*($) indicates an additional fee

  • Access to land and water (based on snowpack and yearly availability)
  • Access to hand tools and weed eaters
  • Basic land preparation in spring, including bed shaping, and then fall tilling and planting of cover crop.
  • Two 1:1 meetings with staff between February and April to help plan your farm (one with the Production Manager and one with the Program Coordinator).
  • Basic irrigation infrastructure
    • Two electric pumps located on the north end of the field
    • Entire drip irrigation system will be provided for 1/8 acre for first-year incubators
    • All materials after the pressure regulator will become the property of the farmer
    • Materials for subsequent acreage and years responsibility of farmer ($)
  • Returning incubators are responsible for all irrigation equipment beyond the pressure regulator.
  • Basic harvest/processing facility
  • Access to cooler space ($), root cellar space ($), and tractor cultivation by staff ($)

  • Remain in good standing, which is defined as completing all required training and classes, staying current on the payment schedule of all fees, and adhering to site guidelines.
    • Farm businesses must be in good standing, including the completion of the spring classes and all assignments, including a crop plan, to take the field on May 1.
      • Farms that have not met this requirement will not be able to continue in the program.
    • Farm businesses that are not in good standing during the season will lose privileges to resources outside access of their field (marketing assistance, coolers, communal tools, processing shed, etc.)
  • Attend the required training, including the Spring Farmer Training Immersion and May 1 work day. Only illness or family emergencies will excuse absences.
    • Year 1 Farmers must attend all sessions.
  • Sign and adhere to Site Guidelines
    • Site guidelines must be signed before the farmer can begin work in the field.
  • Become a member of the Old Fort Market Garden Cooperative (land-based liability insurance).
  • Obtain Farm Liability Insurance
    • Each incubator will carry at least $1 million general and product liability policy.
    • Available through the Old Fort Market Garden Cooperative.
  • Pay fees according to the schedule.
  • Complete tasks as assigned.
  • Commitment to the project and awareness of program requirements.
  • Developed crop plan by April meeting.
  • Provide necessary seed/transplants, special equipment, and harvesting supplies.
  • Recordkeeping skills and reports of production and marketing data.
  • Meet with program staff at least twice throughout the season.
  • Adherence to food safety protocol set by GAP and Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA)
  • Adherence to Fair Labor Standards Act laws regarding internships, apprenticeships, and volunteer labor.
  • Completion of season by October 1, including clearing all large debris, materials, and equipment from the field.
  • Maintenance (weed control, weed‐eating, general care) and plot irrigation during the growing season (time needed per week varies with plot size).

These fees allow the program to continue to support farmers in the future. Payment plans may be available upon advance request. Otherwise, incubators are expected to follow the fee due dates below to remain in good standing with the program.

Acceptance and Training Fee

$100 is due upon acceptance to the program.

Field Fee

$300 per business per year for up to ½ acre; $600 per business per year for ½ acre or more. These funds allow us to provide spring tillage, soil amendments, bed shaping, maintain irrigation system and harvest shed, purchase specialized tools for communal use, service weed eaters, provide field bathrooms, complete fall tillage, and plant cover crop.

Land and Water Access Fee

Plot Size

Year 1

Year 2

Year 3

Year 4

Year 5

1/8 acre $125 $250 $375 $500 $625
1/4 acre $250 $500 $750 $1,000 $1,250
1/2 acre $500 $1,000 $1,500 $2,000 $2,500
1 acre $1,000 $2,000 $3,000 $4,000 $5,000

Cooperative and Insurance Costs

All farmers are required to have $1M in general liability to participate in the program. The Old Fort Market Garden Cooperative was formed to provide all farmers access to affordable insurance. The membership fee is $25/year and gives you access to general and product liability insurance (required) at a reduced rate. Plan for increases over these rates from 2021:

  • 1/8 acre: $200
  • 1/4  acre: $250
  • 1/2 acre: $350

Fee payment schedule to remain in good standing

Timely payment of fees is tied to good standing in the program. Speak with the program coordinator immediately if you anticipate not being able to make a payment. Access fees for the cooler and root cellar are additional and are not pro‐rated. Fees are non‐refundable.

Fee Payment Schedule

(fees may also be paid upfront)

Incubator: less than 1/2 acre

Incubator: 1/2 acre or more

February 15 (Acceptance Fee) $100 $100
May 1 (Field Fee) $300 $600
June 1 (Cooperative membership [$25] and Insurance Fee [$200] Varies (>$225) Varies (>375)
July 1 (Land Access Fee) $125 for 1/8 acre Varies
Estimated Totals $700 Varies

Additional fees

  • Root Cellar: $100/bay/month
  • Cooler space: $50/month for assigned shelves
  • Tractor work by staff $50/hour, dependent on staff availability

Important notes

Growing areas are not certified organic, but incubators will use organic practices, and all amendments must be approved by program staff. Housing is not available on site. Greenhouse space is unavailable, although incubators may construct low tunnels on plots. Perennial plantings are not permitted in individual plots.

The Old Fort

18683 CO-140
Hesperus, CO 81326

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Land Acknowledgement 

We acknowledge the land that the Old Fort is situated upon is the ancestral land and territory of the Nuuchiu (Ute) people who were forcibly removed by the United States Government. We also acknowledge that this land is connected to the communal and ceremonial spaces of the Jicarilla Abache (Apache), Pueblos of New Mexico, Hopi Sinom (Hopi), and Diné (Navajo) Nations.

The Old Fort and Fort Lewis College are committed to reconciling their history as a federal Indian Boarding School from 1892 to 1909.

Learn more about reconciliation

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The Old Fort is owned by the Colorado State Land Board and managed by Fort Lewis College.

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