Never imagined I’d be a part-time farmer, yet here we are

by DGO Web Administrator

I’m not a farmer. I grew up in the suburbs, where paved shopping centers and mega-malls were the closest thing to “open spaces” that I knew. Sure, we went camping with Girl Scouts, and we’d drive somewhere in the fall to pick through the pumpkin patch or get lost in a corn maze. But, I was a bit of a book worm, and wasn’t exactly the type of kid who liked getting messy. Farm life was entirely foreign to me, so it’s not exactly like I woke up one day and said, “Hey, I’d love to own an orchard!”

But, as I grew older, the traffic and exhaust fumes started to get to me. I moved to the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, still fully entrenched in suburban life in my little college town, but the proximity to the great outdoors called to me. I traded in my tennies for a pair of hiking boots, and the more I trekked through the mud, the easier it became to accept that dirt and grime are a part of life. As it turns out, becoming unkempt isn’t really that bad.

When college was over, the West seemed like it was full of possibilities, so I packed up my car and headed to scenic Colorado. Along the way, I continued to get my hands dirty, building a few calluses, and truly appreciating the protective wonder of 75 SPF sunscreen. By the time I arrived at an opportunity to buy a piece of land with mature fruit trees on it, I was ready to start a little hobby farm. You might think a half-acre property with 15 trees is too small to be considered an orchard, but let me tell you. You can feed a lot of people on a property this size. Between the 300-square-foot plot in the back, the eight raised beds I built in the front, and the fruit trees, I could easily feed a family of four (if not more).

Our first year, the harvest wasn’t too difficult. A late frost destroyed most of the flowering trees, leaving us with a few measly pears and a handful of sour cherries. Our garden plot grew some great vegetables, but mostly it had the best grass in the yard because I was too busy (aka, lazy) to weed it. When the season was over, we didn’t put anything up because we had eaten everything fresh. We assessed our successes and failures, vowing to do better next year and grow enough to preserve something for the long winter ahead. And, for the most part, we were successful. The raised beds were much less of a pain to weed, and the trees were abundant with fruit. In fact, we had so much that I called my friends and promised them free cherries, pears, and apricots in exchange for picking them off the tree!

We learned that fruit is much more cyclical than vegetables. As opposed to having a giant harvest of everything at once, each tree has its moment. First, it was cherries, and we dutifully picked and pitted our wares to make brandied and maraschino cherries, pie fillings, and jams. Next up came the apricots and peachcots (a hybrid between a peach and an apricot), which ripened so quickly we barely knew what to do with them. Just as the last apricot fell from the tree, it was time to pick the peaches and pears. While apples are best fully ripened on the tree, we came to realize that it’s better to pick pears when they’re mature and let them ripen inside. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said so eloquently, “There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.” Let it ripen from the inside-out on the tree and you’ll understand what that means.

The only thing left to harvest is the apples, their massive branches pregnant with weight as they dip closer and closer to the ground. We currently wait with bated breath, apple grinder and press ready in the garage. It’s possible we’ll get 150 gallons worth of cider off those trees, so we’ve become bottled water drinkers just to save enough gallon jugs for the harvest. Once it’s pressed, it’ll be ready to ferment and turn into hard cider. Or, we’ll freeze it and keep it plain (drinking it spiked with our peach-pit infused rum, I’m sure).

We might not be farmers, but our little hobby farm is just big enough to feed us a few months out of the year. With any luck, we’ll be able to extend our growing season this year and enjoy all the canned fruits and vegetables we put away. I never imagined I’d be a part-time farmer, and it’s definitely hard work, but it’s completely worth it when you get to eat the fruits of your labor. (Sorry…I had to.)

Lindsay D. Mattison is a professional chef and food writer living in Durango. She enjoys long walks in the woods, the simplicity of New York-style cheese pizza, and she’s completely addicted to Chapstick. Contact her at [email protected].


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