St. Charles Mesa stretches to the east of Pueblo, along the highway that eventually leads to La Junta, Rocky Ford and Lamar. The Arkansas River valley soil there makes the area famous for its produce, most notably melons and peppers.
In the middle of the mesa, surrounded by brick ranch houses on mixed parcels of acreage, behind a bright purple gate, sits Country Roots Farm, 13 acres of neatly tended garden land that extends to the west of a tidy stucco farmhouse surrounded by henhouses and poultry pens.
When I drive up the gravel driveway, the head bulldog, a pale, pink-eyed sweetheart warbling for attention, immediately greets me. So long as my fingers are attached to the top of his head, he accompanies me on my tour of the farm.
To the side of the house are piles of neatly sorted scrap lumber and rolls of fence wire. I watch ducks and turkeys peck harmoniously along the ground of their shaded pen until I am greeted by Ryan Morris, the dedicated organic farmer who, along with his wife, runs the place.
Morris grew up on the mesa, left to go to school and explore the world a bit, working as an occupational therapist, then returned to the area to farm. He has been on this land for 10 years, and Country Roots Farm has been a certified organic operation for the past seven years. That means everything is grown with no chemical fertilizers, no chemical herbicides and no chemical pesticides.
In growing seasons past, Morris has grown seeds for Seeds of Change, the Santa Fe--based organic seed company, and has provided produce to Wild Oats Market. But it is the notion and practice of Community Supported Agriculture -- farming supported by membership fees where a member receives a portion of the weekly harvest -- that excites him most. For the past two to three years, Country Roots Farm has been able to subside on its CSA memberships, along with profits from a weekend roadside farm stand run out of the large garage next to Morris' house.
As we walk the border of the freshly tilled garden, Morris explains that, although the bulk of his acreage is dedicated to farming fresh organic produce, he also feeds the soil by alternating cover crops (rye grass, clover, millet, pasture grass), then harvests the cover crops to provide bedding for all the animals on the farm.
"I always try to work toward a dual purpose," he explains, pointing out portable chicken pens that move up and down, providing the chicks a constant source of nutrition while they fertilize the soil with their droppings. Variety is also a hallmark of Country Roots Farm, especially heirloom varieties of vegetables.
"We try to grow two to six varieties of everything," says Morris. Beets come in the usual all-red variety, but he also grows golden beets and the beautiful spiraled white-and-red variety. Tomatoes come in shades of red, pink, yellow and purple, and Morris' pride and joy is a watermelon called "Moon and Stars."
"It's beautiful," he says. "Dark green with yellow spots. I grow enough to save the seed and cultivate a new crop. People just love 'em."
In the summer, crops are planted in succession every two weeks to provide a constant variety of vegetables to CSA members. Salad mix is planted every week to keep a fresh crop coming in.
For $385, a member family gets a weekly supply of 5 to 25 pounds of fresh produce from late May or early June to mid-October, plus an invitation to join in farm activities including harvesting and the care of farm animals. For an individual the price of membership is $285. In June, a typical week's yield might include beets, herbs, lettuce, onions, peas, spinach and sweet corn. By July, turnips, tomatoes, summer squash, oriental greens, garlic, cucumbers and carrots are added to the mix. August brings winter squash, pumpkins, and those famous Pueblo melons and peppers.
"We try to add one or two things every few weeks," explains Morris. "Members usually get a full bushel box by July."
Most Country Roots Farm CSA members live in Pueblo, but several Springs families have become members in the past few years. Morris says that if enough Springs families join, he will arrange a central drop-off point where members can pick up their produce every Saturday.
The farm hosts a potluck dinner and hayride with music every summer, and invites members to bring their families down to observe the workings of the farm.
We visit the "ladies," Morris' laying hens, beautiful black birds with silver and gold streaks on their feathers.
"These are silver lace and golden lace Wyandottes," he points out. They are a near-extinct species, chosen for their beauty and their scarcity.
We quietly enter the laying house where several hens cluck at us resentfully. Morris sends me home with a dozen eggs, plucked warm from the nest. They are pastel and multicolored, ranging from dusty brown to dove gray.
I edge toward my car and apologize that I must rush back to the Springs.
"That's why we did this," he says, nodding. "We felt like we were always rushing from one place to another."
He waves his cap and invites me to come back this summer. "You'll have to try that Moon and Stars watermelon."