Rifle Farm to Table dinner this Saturday at Bookcliffs Art Center

Rifle Farm to Table dinner this Saturday at Bookcliffs Art Center

Kip Hays manages his produce stand during the Rifle Farmers Market last Friday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Kip Hays’ face gleamed a pinkish red from a sun piercing a bluebird sky Friday. A black cowboy hat stretched over his bristly white handlebar mustache.

Hays, a Cameo farmer and vendor, patrolled behind his boxes of green peppers, oval squash and fuzzy peaches. Customers browsed intently, trying to get what they could before one of Rifle’s final farmers markets at Heinze Park closed out for the season.

“At my stand,” he said, “90% of what I sell I grow.”

This isn’t, however, the season’s final hurrah for either Hays or relishing in freshly and locally grown produce. Rifle Farmers Market board members have spent this past week preparing for its sixth annual Farm to Table Dinner and Fundraiser, slated for 5 p.m. Saturday at Bookcliffs Arts Center. Tickets — $55 per person — are available online and help support next season’s farmer’s market and farm-to-table event.

This al-fresco dining experience hosted by the Rifle Development Corporation consists of a four-course meal created from mostly Western Slope agriculture and even plucked from local gardens, farmer’s market board member Emily Bassett said.

“Last year we did salad with local greens, with different arugula and spinach,” she said Tuesday. “We have a nice lettuce provider that donated all the ingredients this year.”

One of the producers behind this year’s potential menu of roasted rosemary potatoes and peach margaritas is Hays. Hays donated boxes of onions, potatoes and beans. But while his produce is as fresh as morning dew, its roots date back over 100 years.

Kip Hays helps a customer last Friday at the Rifle Farmers Market.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Fields of peaches, tomatoes, peppers, cucumber, squash and hay are found just across the Colorado River at James M. Robb State Park. Hays’ parents — Thelma and Herbert H. — purchased the property in 1957 through Thelma’s side of the family, which farmed it since the early 20th century.

After high school, Hays spent the next 30 years in the oil industry before coming back and joining brothers Jack and Will in operating this fertile acreage.

“As my parents aged, it was time for me to settle down and us brothers to take over the farm and keep the family legacy going,” Hays said.

Extending that legacy means peach tree pruning begins every February. April is dedicated to tasks like plowing and fertilizing. By the time harvest rolls around, the Hays’ farm is producing upwards of 3,600 boxes of peaches — 24 to 45 pounds a box — alone, according to 2021 numbers.

Hays ships his produce all over the country. Alaska. New York. Arizona. One client buys Hays’ peaches even when she’s vacationing in Georgia — The Peach State. Clients in Dodge City, Kansas can’t resist blowing up his text messages for this Western Colorado delicacy. But what’s especially special about Rifle’s Farm to Table event is that he gets to see first hand just how satisfied his clients are.

“It gives you a good feeling,” he said. “It makes me happy to see somebody enjoy it, because then it makes my labor and my time worthwhile.”

Bassett can’t wait. A nice, big, well-lit tent. About a 100 patrons, including local movers and shakers and politicians, dining outdoors beside a Rifle institution that dates back to 1989.

Saturday night also features a live performance by Noodle Soup, a small offshoot of Symphony in the Valley, and a silent auction.

“I feel like it’s one of the most magical events in Rifle,” she said. “Under the tent and glowing lights, the beautiful flowers, wonderful meal — and you get to see so many community members.”

Fresh corn displayed at Kip Hays’ produce stand during the Rifle Farmers Market last Friday.
Ray K. Erku/Post Independent

Unfortunately, Hays won’t be attending Saturday’s function, he said glumly. This is still Hays’ busy season. He still has more farmers markets elsewhere to peddle his peaches at and not enough time to take a break.

But once his season finally comes to a close, Hays said he looks forward to taking his mules to Colorado high country, where he’ll fish, ride and wait for the next peach season to blossom.

“You don’t farm for a living or a job,” Hays said. “You do the work because you have a passion for it.


What: Farm-to-Table Dinner and Fundraiser

Where: Bookcliffs Arts Center, 955 CR 293

When: 5 p.m. Saturday

How much: $55 per ticket. Tickets can be purchased at

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