By Harper Kaufman, Co-Owner and Operator of Two Roots Farm
Christian and I fell in love with farming not too long after we fell in love with each other. Before graduating from the University of Montana, we had our first farming experience at PEAS Farm, the university farm near campus. While there, we began to grasp the serious consequences of current food system, and more importantly, we learned how those consequences can be reversed through sustainable agricultural practices.
Propelled by our enthusiasm to change the world one small farm at a time, we set out to California for a full-season internship.
What we didn’t know then was just how many giant hurdles were in the way. not just for our country to reverse its habits, but also for each individual who sets out to farm sustainably. We knew that we wanted to own and operate our own farm, but the road was not clear. How would we find the land, money, and tools?
We decided the first thing we needed was experience and knowledge. We read every book about sustainable agriculture and small-scale farming that we could get our hands on. We enrolled ourselves in an online course for beginning farmers and completed a local course on farming business. After our internship, we spent two years as the agriculture managers at Rock Bottom Ranch with Aspen Center for Environmental Studies, where we gained invaluable experience growing in a mountain climate.
Four farm-filled years later, in 2016, we started our own farming business, Two Roots Farm, with a simple mission: to provide sustainably produced, freshly harvested, nutrient-dense vegetables to the Roaring Fork Valley community. We leased land from friends in Missouri Heights and sold our produce to restaurants and the Aspen Saturday Market as well as through a CSA program. Additionally, we received a loan from Slow Money for $7,500 to help us purchase the materials for a mobile walk-in cooler, a drip-irrigation system, and a season-extension structure. By the time June came around, we were hitting our stride. We felt good about the tools we had, the crops we were growing, and the direction our business was headed.
But we hit a pivotal moment during our first year. Crop loss is inevitable; no matter how wonderful a grower you are or how carefully you prepare, there is very little that prepares you for flood, fire, tornado, earthquake, or drought. For us, it was hail—chunky, powerful, unexpected hail—on an otherwise summery July day.
We came home, confused to see white, icy piles spread around the property. Did it snow? We walked into the garden. It was a traumatic sight: kale leaves ripped into fragments or torn off the plant entirely, heads of lettuce that looked like they had been put into a paper shredder, cucumber plants reduced to bare twigs.
After this incident, it became even more evident that our community supported and cared about us. A farming friend donated produce for our CSA, chefs agreed to buy “hail kale,” and many friends offered a hand.
It has been several months now, and I am reminded of the resilience of plants. Many of the longer-season crops valiantly bounced back to life, and regrowth popped up everywhere. We replanted a great portion of the garden in preparation for fall.
Christian and I were able to respond with a level head and a sense of calm because we knew that we had lenders who cared and understood. Our loan from Slow Money allowed us to absorb this shock because we had the tools we needed to get back on track.
All entrepreneurs will hit hurdles like this, so you must be the kind of person who can pick yourself back up. However, when you choose a business as risky as farming, you also need to be able to ask for help. We feel lucky to have found a place where people are willing and able to offer it.
Harper Kaufman was born and raised in the mountains of Colorado, and she is grateful to call them home once again. Her time spent in Oregon, Montana, and California resulted in a passion for sustainable agriculture and small scale farming (plus the love of her life, Christian). When the opportunity arose, she jumped at the chance to live out their farming dreams in her home state. Christian and Harper were lucky to be hired as agriculture managers for ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch where they saw first hand the need for local vegetable farms in the Roaring Fork Valley. A few years later, through partnerships, support from the community, and a good deal of sweat, Two Roots Farm has become a successful reality.