Durango Farmers Market ag vendors had varying experiences with weather, available water and finding workers this growing season, but they reported that they fared well at the 25th annual market.
Agriculture vendors at the market provide produce, meat and dairy. Other vendors include artisans and nonprofit organizations, such as the League of Women Voters of La Plata County.
Vendors come from a range of places inside and outside La Plata County. A couple of vendors are from Archuleta County and many are from Montezuma County and San Juan County, New Mexico.
Linley Dixon has owned Adobe House Farm and operated it with her husband and brother since 2010. Dixon said 2021 was slightly less successful than 2020, though still a good year for the farm and business, but 2020 was the best year she’s ever had thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s been a whirlwind because business really skyrocketed when COVID hit,” Dixon said.
She said everything she grew, including tomatoes, cucumbers, lettuce, basil and kale, sold well. Her cherry tomatoes were the best-selling produce in 2020, she said.
“We sell through James Ranch and a farmer-owned cooperative and people didn’t want to go into grocery stores,” she said. “They felt more comfortable going into the small James market.”
Dixon said 2020 sales were so good she decided to invest in a new greenhouse so she can grow year-round.
“We built the greenhouse because we do get strong winds in the spring,” she said. “We have a very short season and passing hail storms every year. So in order to kind of mitigate from those extremes, we’ve got the insurance of having protected culture. Everything is very highly controlled.”
Conditions in the greenhouse are highly controlled, but they’re highly expensive and there’s a steep learning curve, too, Dixon said.
“The problem with that is we’re highly mechanized now,” she said. “There’s a lot of equipment to run that and if that breaks down it’s expensive.”
What did the Dixons have to learn? They knew how to drive a tractor and perform outdoor planting, but now they’ve got an indoor grow operation with a pad and cooling fan and different heating systems. Dixon said they’ve installed solar panels and a lot of welding was involved in setting that up.
“Just a whole different skill set to run a year-round greenhouse,” she said.
She said the farm uses compost from a local business, Table to Farm, which collects compost from homeowners in town.
They apply the compost by sprinkling it on top of their greenhouse grow areas once every four weeks or so to maintain fertility and continue a year-round cover crop.
Dixon said she wants people to remember her farm the next time shelves are empty.
“I’m disappointed it’s not the same as it was when everybody was panicked,” she said. “It’s like, remember that we’re here for you when times are tough and shelves are empty. There’s local food happening. I want people to remember that.”
Adobe House Farm has been a vendor with Durango Farmers Market since it entered into business in 2011. Dixon said the Durango area is a supportive community for local food because people are loyal to local farmers.
Plus, the surrounding area is a good place to have a farm, she said.
Heidi Rohwer with Rohwer’s Farms north of Cortez said this year’s growing season was stressful because of how short on water she was.
Rohwer’s Farms, which has participated in the Farmers Market since 2009, consists of about 24 acres, 12 of which were dedicated to produce and orchards. The farm is normally allotted 22 inches of irrigation water, but this year it received just 1½ inches.
Water at the farm was turned off at the end of June or the first week of July, Rowher said. The farm had to switch to municipal water use for the rest of the year, which made her unsure of how the crops would turn out.
“It affected our potato crops,” she said. “We got like 15% of what we should have gotten out of our potatoes. We had to cut down a lot of our crops by half or more.”
Rowher didn’t even bother to grow some of the more “water-hungry” crops such as corn, she said.
“This is the first time ever for us (that we had to switch to municipal water),” she said. “The first time that we ever had our water turned off before October.”
Rowher said the water system her farm uses is typically pretty reliable, but it is lower in priority than other users on the same system.
“We ended up getting cut pretty short,” she said. “So hopefully we get a pretty good winter this year or else it’s going to be the same situation next year.”
Rowher said she’s had a good year at the market despite the water shortage. She said the Rowhers are happy with how everything turned out, but they definitely had less produce this year.
The farm produced fewer potatoes, but sweet potatoes were “awesome,” she said. Their onion crop fared better than average and peppers were “fantastic.”
Water was in short supply for the Rowhers and seeds were, too. Rowher purchased seeds in November 2020.
She said the usual seed company they deal with loves variety in the seeds it offers and normally offers plenty of varieties because it travels a lot to collect seeds. But it couldn’t do that this time.
“Some varieties, we had to give up because you just couldn’t find them anymore,” she said. “But this was a good year for that because we had to cut back on things anyway.”
Rowher said getting potting soil was “a big headache” as well. She ordered the soil in January and didn’t receive it until March even though she “desperately needed it in February.”
Tyler Hoyt with Green Table Farms in Mancos said despite the drought that forced the farm to pare down the number of crops it grew, everything turned out just fine thanks to an end-of-year rain and an extra-long growing season.
Hoyt described Green Table Farms as a “very diverse, well-rounded farm” that produces everything from eggs, meat and ice cream to vegetables and fruits. The farm has been operating for eight years and has been a vendor at the market for seven. Hoyt serves as president on the farmers market’s board of directors.
“This year was really bad for Mancos,” he said of the drought. “If you didn’t have senior water rights, you basically didn’t get much water this year. We’re not a very senior water right. So we didn’t have a lot of water.”
Green Table Farms is on 72 acres, although most of that is woodland. In a typical year, Hoyt grows on 2 to 3 acres, but the water shortage made ranch managers decide to grow on just 1 acre this year. Some of the items Green Table Farms did not grow because of the drought include potatoes and sweet corn.
“The rain definitely helped at the end of the year,” he said. “... We wouldn’t have had half of what we got without that rain. It ended up being pretty good. It was a long season. The frost kind of cooperated this year.”
Hoyt said he didn’t experience an intense spring frost. He said fruit can often be “crushed” in early spring frosts, but he didn’t experience a killing frost until early October. This year’s growing season lasted a long time, too, he said.
“I think two seasons ago we had a 78-day growing season, so this was like 100-plus, which is way better,” he said.
Green Table Farms is family owned and operated. It has grown every year, he said, and the market is strong right now.
Hoyt finds extra workers through a program called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, although he doesn’t need too many helping hands, he said. He described the program as a short-term, almost volunteer program.
“It’s almost like an internship, is the way I think of it,” he said. “It’s an educational opportunity for people to come out to a farm. We take care of all their living expenses, and we take care of them really well while they’re on the farm.”
Kerby Orchard in the Farmington area has been in business for 76 years, Leslie Kerby said. Kerby’s father started the orchard in 1945 after stints in Washington, Oregon and other places regarded as “apple country,” but settled on Farmington because of the presence of the San Juan and Animas rivers.
“People told him he’d never make it, a fruit orchard on that land, and he said, ‘You’re looking at the man that can,’” he said. “So we’ve been growing fruit since then.”
Seventy-six years later, Kerby Orchard grows 15 kinds of apples, eight types of peaches, four kinds of pears, five or six kinds of plums, three or four varieties of prunes, cherries and apricots.
“Anything that will grow – except oranges, they freeze,” Kerby said.
Although, he also said the orchard has “pretty good” heating systems as an insurance policy against spring frosts.
Kerby has attended the Durango Farmers Market as a vendor for about 12 years. He said it’s definitely worth the time for him to make the trip from Farmington, although he fared even better 10 years ago.
“I’d come up here with 200 or 300 bags of peaches and I’d sell them all,” he said. “It’s gotten a little bit slower but so has it for everyone. The economy’s been a little tougher the last five years. We do good here. And I do the markets in Aztec and Farmington.”
Kerby said the weather hasn’t given him too much of an issue, but 2021 has been the worst year for him to find workers.
“COVID hasn’t been too bad,” Kerby said, “but this ‘everyone stay home and draw paychecks from the government’ stuff sucks.”
Kerby said he’s about a week and a half off in picking fruit and guessed that he lost $20,000 over Yellow Delicious, a variety of apple, because he couldn’t get the apples picked in time.
Kerby Orchard had some fruits left as of mid-October, including plums, pears and peaches. He said the apricots were gone, and the farm didn’t produce many cherries this year.