Local farm uses unique practices in growing | SteamboatToday.com

Local farm uses unique practices in growing

— After one full year in Steamboat, I'm still discovering new things on a daily basis. And gardening has been a continuous mystery to me.

I've heard the name Elkstone Farm around town for a while, but as I was recently reading about their philosophies of gardening, I had to follow my curiosity and see these concepts myself.

Earlier this week, I ventured to the oasis nestled behind a hillside just outside town. Following the red dirt road leading to Elkstone Farm, the view of its pond and tranquil environment full of vibrant hues and plants beginning to bloom was a beautiful sight, even on a rainy day.

Owner Terry Huffington was inspired to create Elkstone Farm in 2008 with her husband, Ralph Dittman, based upon two key concepts: to respect the agricultural traditions of Strawberry Park and to utilize the land as productively as possible.

Traditions of the area come from the valley's earlier inhabitants in the 1900's. The area was known for its Remington strawberries, large berries that continued to produce ripe fruit throughout the season. This idea of bringing those historic roots back to the farm has launched them in a new direction.

Staying true to these historic roots, Huffington and Dittman have utilized permaculture — working with or mimicking nature — methods of growing. It was a concept originally inspired by Australians Bill Mollison and David Holmgren in 1978. Permaculturists strive to micmic patterns found in nature, creating a harmonious relationship between plants, soils and water.

"It's sort of morphed into something completely different than what we originally intended," Huffington said. "Life-long learning is a concept that is a buzz phrase but is part of the joy in continuing to learn, experiment and try new things to see what works."

Trained in permaculture from a CRMPI (Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute) workshop in Basalt, Huffington and Jeannie Berger, farm caretaker, learned that the concept is meant to adapt to various environments.

Creating micro environments, the pond garden is a permaculture example of a plant guild in which individual components strengthen one another. There is the pond, the low-growing plants, shrubs and the canopy of trees. Anything — from the Honeoye, Seascape and Fort Laramie Everbearing strawberries, black currents, gooseberries and pear trees, apple trees, crabapple trees, cherry trees, asparagus, garlic and potatoes — grows in the large scale garden. Many of the seeds come from Johnny's Selected Seeds out of Vermont.

This method of permaculture is supposed to be less labor intensive, explained Berger.

"Most everything we do is by hand," said Berger, who has worked with Huffington for more than 16 years. "We grow certain plants as part of our organic practices because those will repel bugs, but without harmful chemicals. And we don't have big machinery; the biggest thing that we have a snowblower."

No matter what time of day, the small staff of Ali Giese, Liana Vitousek, Dan Almquist, Natalie Savage, Alex Berger and his mom Jeannie were continuously hard at work.

Huffington said the ever-evolving farm is a labor of love for her and each of the seven full-time and two part-time employees who have an obvious passion for what they do day in day out.

"One of my favorite things about this farm is just the essence of it, getting back to your roots and knowing where your food came from and being connected to what you eat and where we live," said Monica Verploeg, food designer, who has worked there for five years. "There is a creative energy always present, and we are all so excited about what goes on here that it's those ‘aha!’ moments all the time."

From this experience of touring the farm and getting an education in permaculture, I've learned that with gardening — like many things in life — it's a constant learning process that takes hard work and patience.

"It's a lot of work, but at the end of the day, we are all smiling," Verploeg said.

To reach Audrey Dwyer, call 970-871-4229, email adwyer@ExploreSteamboat.com or follow her on Twitter @Audrey_Dwyer1