GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Although the first day of spring is still more than two weeks away, it's not too early to sign up for garden shares (community-supported agriculture) at Borden Farms, located at Pea Green, a historic farming community near Delta.
The CSA delivers fresh, organic produce to Grand Junction, and other West Slope communities, as well as high-end restaurants like the Sweet Basil in Vail, Phat Thai in Carbondale, and The Cosmopolitan in Telluride.
A CSA is a partnership between a farm and local supporters who purchase shares of the season's produce upfront. CSA members receive a seasonal variety of fresh-picked vegetables each week.
The arrangement provides the farmer with a secure market and the shareholder knows where his or her food comes from. And because it's harvested the day before delivery it's much fresher than what you'll find in the grocery store.
Lynn and Guy Borden said they began farming in 1996 because they love good food.
"We remember the food, the flavor of what our grandparents used to grow - so we started growing our own," Lynn said. "We're passionate about it."
The Bordens are certified organic growers and have been committed to not using pesticides, herbicides or nonorganic fertilizer from the beginning.
"Our main motivation is we wanted to grow food without any poisons on it," Guy said.
"I'm not so much against (synthetic) fertilizers (although the Bordens don't use any) but I am against pesticides."
Even some of the organic pesticides are not good, Guy said. So he deals with pests in other ways.
For starters, the Bordens are selective about what they grow. If a particular plant attracts bugs year after year, they simply don't grow it.
"The other thing, we hand-pick bugs (off the plants)," Guy said. "We try and plant faster than they can multiply. We do multiple plantings."
They also cover their vegetable rows with a light-weight cover that serves as a type of greenhouse, allowing sunlight to filter through.
"It keeps the bugs off," Guy said.
To fertilize their fields the Bordens apply manure from a local dairy and an organic product called Nature Safe.
Borden Farms grows a wide range of crops including 10 varieties of tomatoes, 12 kinds of peppers, cucumber, beets, oriental and American eggplant, cantaloupe, leeks and squash. There's also eight varieties of basil, thyme, oregano, sage, rosemary, marjoram, cilantro, chives, dill, parsley, six types of lavender, echinacea, lemon balm, catnip, sorrel, calendula, chamomile and borage. Crops also include different varieties of greens, onions, carrots, beans and fruit such as peaches, apples, apricots and cherries.
"It's a culinary journey - there are different things every week," Lynn said. "They're generous boxes."
The variety has spurred CSA members Jaime and Wes Scripps of Grand Junction to try vegetables they were unfamiliar with before. The Scripps are going on their third year as members.
"We've definitely tried new things," Jaime said. "They'll give you recipes. There are fun things like squash blossoms.
"Something I learned to love is beets, from their recipes of roasting them. It's become one of our new favorites."
Guy Borden couldn't recall the exact number of different crops they grow, but it's more than a 100, he said.
"We've been told we're the most diverse CSA in the state," he said. "A lot of people like us for that."
"The tomatoes are the best I've ever had," Jaime said. She and her husband also love the roasted poblano chiles.
Last year the Grand Junction drop-off site was located at the Business Incubator Center, where one of their members runs a business. They may expand to other Grand Junction pick-up locations this season.
'WE REALLY WANTED TO FARM'
At 5,600 feet elevation, in the fertile, shady, loam soil of the Uncompahgre Valley, the land is ideal for farming, the Bordens said.
Borden Farms has long supplied seven Western Slope farmers markets. They formed a CSA two years ago after many of their friends kept urging them to do so.
"Usually, we don't make money until June," although his five employees are already working and need to be paid, Guy said.
Twelve other employees help out with the farmers markets.
"There's a lot of upfront money to farming. We try not to run on a bank loan. That's why farmers lose their farms - if they can't pay back those loans. The CSA gives us money early on."
The first year the CSA had 35 members. Last year that number grew to 64.
The Bordens like for people to visit the farm, and they host a party for CSA members at the end of every growing season.
The Scripps have brought their two young children to tour the farm and pick peaches from the trees.
"It's a really neat way to get connected with local farmers and the food that you're eating," Jaime said.
The harvest begins mid-June and continues through the end of September, or beginning of October - depending on the weather. Cost for a vegetable share is $495, which works out to about $30 a week.
"For $30 you get what we figure as $45 in vegetables," Lynn said. "It's a good value."
They also offer a $96 egg share for the season, but that's almost sold out already, she said.
She said she won't know the price for the fruit share until they're assured there will be a good crop to offer people.
The Bordens used to lived in Grand Junction where they owned a photography business called Flashback Photo in Clifton.
"We turned out the lights when Exxon left town, and the economy took a nose dive," Lynn said.
They moved to the Front Range but missed the Western Slope and eventually moved to the Uncompahgre Valley.
"We really wanted to farm, and be more self-sufficient," Lynn said. "It's grown and grown every year. We love what we do."
"We're kind of foodies," Guy said. "My grandmother was an avid gardener and I remember how good it was. That's why we got into this. We figured out how to make a living out of it. It took a long time, a lot of hard work. But like any business you really give it your soul to make it work."
For more information or to register for the 2012 Borden Farms CSA season, visit www.bordenfarms.com, or call 970-874-5383. Deadline to register is April 1.