Colorado produces a wide range of produce and other edible products. Some are well known, others less so. Read on to discover some amazing Colorado Proud offerings.
Mushrooms are the missing link between vegetables and meat. There are thousands of varieties, each with its own flavor and texture, and they’re also healthy. Really healthy. They’re low carb, they have practically no fat but they do have protein. They have more than a dozen vitamins and minerals. They’re also rich in antioxidants and they’re one of the few foods that has vitamin D.
There are several mushroom farms in Colorado, including Mile High Fungi. Michael and Liz Nail started Mile High Fungi in 2014. They both foraged for mushrooms in college, where they studied sustainable agriculture, and what would eventually become an obsession started to grow. They eventually began incorporating mushrooms into their home garden - an inoculated stump here or a myceliated wood chip pathway there.
After moving back to Denver they wanted to start some kind of farm, and eventually realized that they could produce mushrooms in the city from waste materials, so that’s what they did.
When they first started they were producing 50 pounds a week (they currently produce around 300-500 pounds a week), but they soon realized that they didn’t have as much room as they would like, so they embarked on an ambitious expansion plan. That plan will come to fruition when they move into a new facility in Conifer.
Their “new” (it was actually built in 1955) autoclave (a machine they will use to sterilize more substrate more efficiently) should be up and running by early to mid-spring. When that happens (in conjunction with other efficiency measures) they hope to reach around 1,000 pounds a week.
Potatoes are a big deal. Taken from the Americas, the humble spud has made its way to
pretty much every corner of the globe.
Potatoes are the top vegetable crop in the United States and the fifth most important crop worldwide. They supply every vital nutrient except calcium, vitamin A and vitamin D, and, much like mushrooms, they are delicious.
One of the better-known Colorado products, the San Luis Valley is a monster producer of potatoes with around 124 farms on 52,000 acres producing roughly 1.45 billion pounds of potatoes - yes you read that correctly. And among all of those potatoes there are more than 70 varieties grown (although some will be grown only for seed).
It’s no coincidence that the San Luis Valley produces so many potatoes. Nestled between the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountains along the Rio Grande River, the San Luis Valley is the perfect setting for growing potatoes. At 7,600 feet, summer temperatures are mild and the altitude naturally decreases the likelihood of disease and pests. The nearby mountains provide plenty of water from snow melt, and because the valley was an ancient lake bed, the soil is rich. In fact, the San Luis Valley is so perfect the region is the second largest fresh potato growing region in the country.
And to celebrate this starchy bounty, a potato festival is held every year on the first weekend of September in Chapman Park in Monte Vista.
For some people, the idea of drinking milk from any animal other than a cow may be off putting. Goat and sheep milk are certainly more palatable when made into cheese, but overall, cows are kings when it come to drinking milk. However, in cultures around the world, milk comes from numerous sources including yaks, buffalo and camels. And as unlikely as it sounds, camel milk is being produced in the Centennial State.
The Camel Milk Co. started in 2015 in Washington when Ryan and Lauren Fee saw a need for camel milk after talking to Somalians who missed it from home. They connected with Kyle and Holly Hendrix of Camelot Camel Dairy in Colorado, and began selling their camel milk to Somali shops and restaurants. From there they started selling to health food shops in Seattle and eventually went national. Last May the Fees decided to relocate to Colorado to be closer to the dairy to manage distribution.
Things are going well. Camelot Camel Dairy now has around 60 camels, up from 15 when Kyle met Ryan, and The Camel Milk Co. has invested in camels themselves, recently purchasing 20 pregnant camels. In a normal month, Camelot Camel Dairy produces 7,000 bottles for the Camel Milk Co. who distribute them to various regional and national markets.
And they aren’t the only camel milk producers in the state. Colorado Camel Milk in Longmont is run by Joseph and Nicole Henderson. They owned camels for seven years before starting their dairy. Committed to organic farming, the camels are never fed grains or GMO feed.
Then there is Mudita Camel Dairy. Owned by Matt and Meghan Stalzer, the six-camel operation recently moved to Conejos County. On top of selling milk, they also knit with the camel fiber and offer farm stays and farm tours.
Wagyu, the king of beef, which literally means Japanese cattle, is essentially a breed (or more accurately one of several) of Japanese cattle that produces tender and marbled beef that contains a high percentage of saturated fat. Which is to say, more flavor.
There are several ranches in Colorado that raise Wagyu cattle, some for specific clients and some to sell themselves.
Among them are Devil’s Thumb Ranch and Spa in Winter Park and The Little Nell in Aspen.
In fact, Devil’s Thumb Ranch may well be the first ranch resort and restaurant in the country to raise its own Wagyu cattle for use in its restaurants. The first Ranch-to-Table operation, you could say. The resort, through an agricultural program it started in 2013, now has 16 full-bred Wagyu cattle. This way the resort is able to control the entire process, which they say ensures the most ethical and humane treatment possible for its animals.
Perhaps vying with Devil’s Thumb is The Little Nell in Aspen. While The Little Nell don’t directly manage their Wagyu cattle, they do have a herd of 100 under an exclusive contract with Emma Farms Wagyu Cattle. The program was introduced by The Little Nell Executive Chef Matt Zubrod who utilizes the Wagyu frequently on his menus in a variety of creative dishes, including Wagyu steak, Wagyu torta, Wagyu burgers, Wagyu tartare, Wagyu hot dogs and Wagyu tacos.
Water, or the lack of it, is a very big deal in large parts of the US, particularly the west. Conservation of water has for some time been a topic of debate and water intensive crops only exacerbate the problem. Aquaponics is one way in which we might be able to have our lettuce and eat it, too.
Fundamentally, the technique is both ancient and simple - a closed system where waste produced by farmed fish is used as nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purifies the water.
South River Aquaponics in Montrose is one of a handful of aquaponic farms in Colorado and the only one on the Western Slope.
South River Aquaponics in Montrose started in 2014 and the first crops came 18 months ago. They produce a range of products at their 14,040-square-foot greenhouse facility, including organic fertilizers, organic cloning gels as well as a few various mushroom varieties (currently they produce around 300 pounds a week in a 20’x40’ mushroom den) and various salad leaves, arugula, basil and whole butter crunch lettuces. They also have 24 vertical grow towers designed for garlic, shallots and onions.
All of the greens are distributed to various places in Telluride, Carbondale, Crested Butte, Aspen, Vail, Grand Junction and Montrose with some of the oyster mushrooms making it as far as Denver.
In production year round, South River Aquaponics were recently awarded a grant by the State of Colorado to expand production.
Quinoa, the seed of the humble goosefoot plant, sprang onto plates all over the US and Europe around 2006 and was the superfood of choice for the next six or seven years.
Back in 2012, at the height of the quinoa craze, Americans were consuming more than half the global production which totaled 37,000 tons that year. But even so, there was only one sizable operation in the entire US that was growing quinoa, White Mountain Farm in Mosca in the San Luis Valley.
The farm has been in the same family since the 1930’s, and was growing wheat, alfalfa and raising sheep until 1984 when they started experimenting with quinoa. Things went well and three years later White Mountain Farm was incorporated and they started growing certified, organically-grown quinoa and potatoes.
Still, at the time owner Ernie New said there was no demand for quinoa. And there wouldn’t be for quite some time at that point. The quinoa craze came and eventually passed, but White Mountain Farms is still growing, as they should because there was a reason the craze started, and that is because quinoa is very high in protein, essential amino acids - lysine, methionine and cystine - calcium, phosphorus, iron and vitamin E.
Colorado is an angler’s paradise thanks to waterways that are teeming with fish, many of which can be caught and taken home, but for a slightly easier catch there are also a number of aquaculture operations here producing several kinds of fish. Colorado Catch just outside Alamosa is one of them.
The second-generation owned farm has been raising hybrid striped bass since the early 90s. A cross between a white bass and a striped bass, the hybrid striped bass is a popular fish for aquaculture all over the US. This crossbreeding isn’t genetic engineering, and in fact it can occur naturally where white bass and striped bass populations overlap.
The fish at Colorado Catch are white with a mild flavor and firm, medium-textured fillets which makes them popular for raw preparations such as sashimi or crudo. When cooked the
fillets are flaky so lend themselves to more traditional preparations, too.
As hybrid striped bass are non-histamine producing fish, they do not have to be frozen before being consumed (a process many other fish are required to go through) and so can be bought fresh which increases overall quality.
Owners Tyler and Rochelle Faucette also pride themselves on being stewards in the aquaculture industry with a firm belief in the importance of producing a sustainable bass.
They also believe it is important to take pressure off the oceans. And they are doing just that.
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program, which helps consumers and businesses choose seafood that’s fished or farmed in ways that support a healthy ocean, hybrid striped bass that are raised in ponds (scoring 6.71) and recirculating systems (scoring 7.66) are both considered green or best choice overall.
Colorado Catch is currently in the process of building a new state-of-the-art facility that will allow them to continue to produce a sustainable, pure tasting bass.
Colorado Catch uses Denver-based Seattle Fish Co. to distribute its fish to retailers across the state.
Read this article in the spring issue of West of 105 here