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Crestone Eagle, October 2002:
Ernie New’s White Mountain Farm –a
truly organic experience
by Matie Belle Lakish
graders tumble from the bus, eager to set their feet in Ernie
New's organic soil and see where vegetables really come from.
Surprisingly, even Sangre de Cristo students don't all know
that potatoes grow under ground. In this age of supermarket
food, Ernie feels a responsibility to help people stay healthy
and connected to the earth through quality organic food that
they pick themselves, So he makes time in his busy schedule
for the children, and for me.
White Mountain Farm is part of a growing movement for Community
Supported Agriculture, or CSA's, that allow people to have
the luxury of really fresh produce without the land or time
invested in growing it themselves. By contributing $150 for
a couple, or $200 for a nuclear family, patrons can pick all
the produce they can use or preserve at the peak of freshness.
As a bonus, they and their children will know where food really
comes from. And this is part of Ernie's goal.
Growing up on a ranch in the 40's and 50's, Ernie remembers
how good the pasture-fed beef tasted. After he got his degree
from CSU and moved to Jefferson County to teach Industrial
Arts to high school students, he wondered why the food they
bought was so tasteless. His wife, Virginia, had grown up
near Mosca, and in the 70's the New family moved to the farm
of her parents, Virgil and Alice Stahl. While chemical farming
was taking over the nation and the Valley, the Stahl's has
resisted and continued to raise their crops chemical free.
Ernie intended to help his in-laws and learn to farm, but
Virgil's unexpected death left Ernie without a mentor, and
the division of the farm among the heirs, combined with the
economic downturn of the early '80's meant they lost the farm
and had to buy it back from the FHA. During those lean times
Ernie went to work as a mechanic at the Pit Stop in Mosca,
which he later bought.
But serendipity was at work, and while the farm was lying
fallow, Ernie was approached by Dave Cusack, who was looking
for 80 acres of chemical-free land to grow quinoa (keen-wa),
a highly nutritious grain-like seed which was the staple food
of the Inca empire. Cusack brought a Bolivian native to tend
the crop, and Ernie watched, that drought year, as the crop
grew knee high without irrigation. Regrettably, Dave Cusack
was killed in Bolivia that summer, but fortunately his partner,
John McCamant, a CSU professor, was interested in pursuing
the project, and together they formed the non-profit research
organization, Sierra Blanca, to experiment with quinoa and
Today, using the results of McCamant's research, his own
ingenuity, his son Paul's managerial skills, and the help
of other family members, White Mountain Farm has become a
vibrant farm of 1045 acres which, God willing, will be paid
off in two years. Ernie says, "It's been lean—sometimes
really lean—but it's been worth it."
The Community Supported Agriculture is only a small part
of White Mountain Farm's operations. The vegetable gardens,
which can be seen east of Highway 17 just north of Mosca,
provide vegetables to 25 CSA families, as well as produce
that is sold at the Alamosa Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings,
other farmer's markets, and to two organic marketing co-ops.
Those co-ops, which Ernie helped start, market to regional
health food stores and restaurant buyer's clubs. Locally,
White Mountain Farm offers quarters or halves of pasture fed
beef to individuals, and CSA members can take advantage of
Ernie's contacts to get organically grown fruit from the western
slope at special member prices.
White Mountain Farm also ships organically grown potatoes
and quinoa to individuals and restaurants by mail. Fine restaurants
from coast to coast serve quinoa as an alternative to rice
or pasta, and the colorful purple, red, and yellow fleshed
potatoes offer nutrition and flavor not found in larger, commercially-bred
offspring. Many individuals with chemical allergies take advantage
of the New's mail order service to have organic potatoes and
quinoa shipped directly to their homes on a weekly basis.
When Ernie talks about farming, you know it is not just his
business, but his passion. He has read many books on the food
industry and knows how they "hook people on chemicals
and fats and other harmful substances." He maintains
that if "families eat the corn, beets, and other vegetables,
they're a lot healthier."
He points to modern practices in the beef industry that confine
cattle in cramped pens and force feed them. "Feed lots
are unnatural. Beef cattle's systems are not designed for
heavy grains and soybeans, and the steroids they give them."
Under a confined forced feeding system, their bodies develop
Omega 6 fatty acids and saturated fats that cause heart problems
for the humans who eat them. "Grown on grass, they develop
the Omega 3 fatty acids" that are heart protective. "I've
wondered about the taste," Ernie says. "I believe
it is the grass that gives beef a good flavor."
Ernie uses the cattle as part of his crop rotation to protect
and enrich the soil. That is also how he got into potatoes.
He was looking for a crop that he could rotate in with his
quinoa and organic alfalfa that could handle the short, cool,
growing season. Potatoes were a natural, but he wanted to
try the older, more flavorful varieties. The purple potatoes
he found were used as row markers to separate varieties in
Idaho. He has since tested 21 kinds of South American potatoes
and fingerling potatoes from all over the world. The farm
now grows several varieties of the small fingerlings, which
make excellent potato salad, as well as Purple Peruvian, Yellow
Finn, Yukon Gold, and a beet colored variety they call Deep
When White Mountain Farms applied for Organic Certification
in 1987, Colorado had no organic standards, so Ernie applied
under Minnesota's standards. In October, the first national
organic standards will go into effect, and Ernie plans to
The New family invites those interested in the CSA to call
719-378-2436 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Their website
is www.whitemountainfarm.com. The garden season begins in
May with rhubarb and asparagus, followed by peas and a variety
of greens. August and September offer the best selection for
canning and freezing, with cucumbers, squash, corn, beans,
some tomatoes, onions and a variety of herbs. Winter squash,
pumpkins, beets, turnips, carrots, and winter radishes are
available until the ground freezes, and the famous potatoes
finish out the season, usually until February. Non-CSA members
can purchase potatoes, quinoa, or beef by calling or emailing.
As we climb into the pick-up and head back to the Pit Stop,
I reflect on the farm tour. We have watched three-inch tilapia
eat algae from the irrigation pond, and passed bees hives
swarming with activity. I can't help thinking about the advice
that is often given to farmers in hard times: diversify. Ernie
smiles. "I like to have something different to do almost
every day," he says.
I can relate.
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