Farmer Erin Cuseo expands vision on Pitkin County open space
The Aspen Times
Farmer Erin Cuseo is growing more than vegetables, greens and berries this year on property she leases at the Lazy Glen Open Space. She’s growing her business, as well.
Cuseo, owner of Erin’s Acres, and her partner Jimmy Dula have expanded the amount of land under till from 1.2 acres to about 1.5 acres. That might not sound like a lot — unless you are the person doing the prepping, planting, weeding and harvesting.
Extra land means extra produce and extra produce means extra customers. Erin’s Acres provides shares in its community–supported agriculture program, where customers pay an upfront fee that helps a farmer cover expenses. In return, the customers reap the bounty of the gardens on a weekly basis in the summer and fall.
Cuseo bumped up her number of CSA shares to 65 this year and she is collaborating with a greater number of other farmers, ranchers and product distributors to add on products. Customers have options for mushrooms, eggs, pork, lamb, beef, kombucha, fruit and raw milk.
“It’s sort of a one-stop shop,” Cuseo said.
The cross branding provides variety for customers and exposure to broader markets to the food producers making a living in the Roaring Fork Valley. She is collaborating with such places as Sustainable Settings for milk and Other Side Ranch for lamb and pork.
The fee is $500 for 16 weeks of produce from Erin’s Acres. The other products are add-ons that customers sign up for on a consistent basis, such as meat every other week.
The CSA model is based on dependability for both the farmer and customer.
“It’s getting the community invested,” Cuseo said.
The payment upfront allows her to cover her expenses and develop a definitive market. That, she said, provides “emotional health.”
The customers receive a steady supply of locally produced food and the satisfaction of knowing they are helping a local farmer. Cuseo said she is always glad to talk to customers about the food she is growing and that they are eating. The open space program’s support of agriculture on some of its properties always makes a good talking point, she said.
Cuseo and Dula have further expansion plans. They received a grant from the Natural Resources Conservation Service for up to $6,500 for a greenhouse. They are looking for matching grants to turn the project into reality.
The Lazy Glen Open Space is on a sun-drenched bench that slopes down to the Roaring Fork River, on the opposite bank from the subdivision of the same name. Cuseo said the great sun exposure creates a longer growing season. She and Dula are rebuilding the soil in a former hay field to make it more productive. Now that she’s starting her second year on the site, she’s taking additional steps to establish perennials such as raspberries, rhubarb and garlic.
She’s using caterpillar tunnels — heavy plastic pulled over hoops — to get peppers, cucumbers and tomatoes started in a warm environment.
She will soon be planting carrots, beets, radishes, turnips and lots of greens in the outdoor plots, gambling against a killer late frost. It’s always a risk, Cuseo said, but that’s just life as a farmer.
For more on the business, visit the Erin’s Acres Farm page on Facebook.
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Roaring Fork Schools volunteers who have already completed a comparable background check through an approved entity would be good to go.