Realizing potential

Although Yosef Camire understood the basics of plants from his experience as the owner of a landscaping company, he realized he needed a lot more information before digging in.
Photo courtesy of Ahavah Farm

by Sally Colby

Coloradan Yosef Camire knew he had a lot to learn when he moved his family from Denver to Peyton with the intention of homesteading.

The 2014 move took the Camire family to a 40-acre, high desert Colorado property that Yosef describes as having a broken-down house, a broken-down barn and a broken-down shed. The Camires were told they wouldn’t be able to grow anything at the location, but that didn’t deter them.

“We saw the potential, and my wife Havah trusted me,” said Yosef. “We established a large garden and sold excess produce at a farmers market. The demand was there, and we realized how much we loved it.”

Yosef admits the climate is harsh, with just 12” of rain annually. “We’re in a rain shadow – storms go around us,” he said. “Temperatures dip to -30º in winter with 100-mile-per-hour winds, and we have more hail than anywhere in the world.” Yosef added that while the location means ample sun in winter, plants require more frequent irrigation through the winter growing season.

Although Yosef understood the basics of plants from his experience as the owner of a landscaping company in Mississippi, he realized he needed a lot more information. “The first winter I read 20 books on farming,” he said. “I remember reading about using cloche, which is French for row cover, and couldn’t figure out what it was.” Yosef said although his knowledge increased from what he read, some of the information didn’t translate to what he was doing on the farm.

The Camires didn’t waste any time getting started. They moved to the farm in September, and by mid-October, erected a 40’ x 20’ tunnel. “It seemed huge to us then,” said Yosef. “We were hit hard by hail in 2015 and realized that the cost of plastic was worthwhile versus losing the crop. We also realized we could save on irrigation costs and get higher yields, and also grow year-round. The benefits were obvious.”

Yosef continued to gather as much information as he could to determine what would work best in the environment. “The first year, we sold vegetables door-to-door,” he said. “People loved that, so we did the same thing the second year. I realized I needed a way to keep a full-time employee, so we decided to start a CSA. After a few years, I left my job as an engineer and went full-time with the farm. Now we’re one of the largest CSAs in Colorado.”

The Camires’ first large growing venture included 40 crops for their fledgling 12-member CSA and farmers market. “We knocked it out of the park the first year,” said Yosef. “We grew a variety of produce, then more than tripled what we grew the following year and continued expanding each year.”

Although the farm is not certified organic, the family’s intention was to use organic growing methods from the start. “We don’t just do organic,” said Yosef. “Anything we use on crops we make ourselves – if we can’t make it ourselves, we won’t use it. We don’t purchase any fertilizer and only use biologicals. If we use something for insects, it’ll be a homemade spray.”

The farm is 100% solar powered, thanks to a field-mounted array added during their second year. A 10’ x 30’ cold room is eight feet deep in the ground to help reduce energy costs, and a supplemental air conditioner helps keep the temperature at around 38º.

With a combination of careful planning, 14 high tunnels and row covers and experience gained over the last six years, the Camires are now growing year-round, harvesting about 150,000 pounds of produce each year. This season, Ahavah Farm is serving 380 CSA members.

“We don’t heat the tunnels – only the nursery is heated,” said Yosef. “We use double row covers and choose cold-hardy crops for winter.” Winter CSA shares feature root vegetables including beets, turnips, carrots and radishes. CSA shareholders enjoy cold-hardy greens such as kale, collards and Swiss chard. Onions, potatoes, pumpkins, microgreens and a variety of herbs round out the shares.

Yosef said farming is definitely an adaptive sport, but he hasn’t been afraid to make changes when necessary. “We’ve changed so many times throughout the years to get better at what we do,” he said. “We started with a bunch of coolers, our CSA members showed up, and we provided a list of what they should take from each cooler. Then we created a market-style CSA where members select a specified number of items based on what size share they have. We also have a traditional style market where people get bagged produce. People love the market style – they have choices, and they can communicate with other members. It becomes a very lively place.”

Although COVID-19 forced the elimination of the market-style CSA, Yosef wants to reinstate it. For now, customers drive through a tent and pick up prepacked shares. “They can also purchase extra produce,” said Yosef, “and we have door-to door delivery. It costs more, but people want it. We do about 75 deliveries each week for CSA members.”

Looking back at how he and his family started a farm with no background in farming, Yosef has advice for those going through the growing pains of a farm start-up: “New farmers should at least work at an internship to learn the basics … and at least know what drip tape is. We had literally no clue.”

The Camire family shares their success with the community through the nonprofit Ahavah Community Initiative, operating on four components: donations, environment, education and community. “With the exception of this year, we have big events with hundreds of people,” said Yosef. “People come for the Fourth of July, children’s programs and tours, school visits and harvest, and we do education at farmers markets. We also hold a series of classes, and this year we’re doing a six-part series on four season gardening in Colorado.”

Yosef said it’s been rewarding to provide food to those in need through donations of full CSA memberships. “People apply, then the volunteer board reviews the applications and opens up the funds to them,” he said. “Some people get supplemental shares, some get fully donated shares, some are on a payment plan. We also have grants and use SNAP.” At least 60 people every season are impacted by the initiative through fully donated shares, supplemental shares or grants.

“It’s something we’ve worked toward,” said Yosef, commenting on the program. “We’ve been blessed, and we want to do the right thing.”

Visit Ahavah Farm online at www.ahavahfarm.com.

2020-09-02T15:50:23-05:00September 2, 2020|Grower West|0 Comments

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