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Little America Orchard

September has brought the love of Fall to the forefront of everyone’s mind. Even at the market, while we are peddling peppers and popcorn on one end, bat ornaments and Fall themed portraits fill the other. Although some people will tell you that pumpkins are the end all be all of Fall, I will argue that nothing signals the change of season more than the luscious apple. This might cause a riot but fresh cider, dunking for apples, and apple pie defined Fall way before the invasion of the Pumpkin Spice Latte. Apples come on right when Fall starts and carry on throughout the season; unlike the ‘orange trash gourd,’ as my husband calls it. So, imagine my overwhelming delight, when Little America Orchard made their triumphant return to the St. George farmers’ market. They are a certified organic orchard from New Harmony. Being that close and that intriguing I basically demanded an interview upon meeting them. As I headed up on Tuesday, the gloomy weather threatened to ruin my trip, but I stayed positive and persevered.

Google Maps fervently tried to convince me to cut through the cemetery to get to Little America Orchard. When I refused, it directed me further down another side street that promptly ended, leaving only an unmarked gravel lane in front of me. I began to drive up it, thinking that the apple tree lined fence was a fortuitous omen. Almost as if Google sensed my thoughts, it gently chimed that this was not the orchard I was looking for and to continue further up the road. Slowly I gained elevation and popped out on the top of the hillside above the surrounding orchards. I gasped. The trail like road had opened up to a 360-degree panoramic view that reminded me of The Lord of The Rings with the Pine Valley Mountains shooting up directly to my left and epic red rock faces protruding in alarming detail to my right. I lifted my foot slowly off my brake and continued to drink in the scenery. As I slowly rolled onto the magnificent 40-acre plot that is Little America Orchard, I found a place to park and lifted myself, and my dropped jaw, out of the car. Tammy Michie opened the house door and called to me smiling. She hurried out to greet me, at which point she motioned to the orchard and said Gary Suppe was just out there picking up apples and would be up in a second. We stood there talking for a minute as we watched the red pickup circle back to the house.

The view off the property

“Man, this is like a story book! Do you just walk out on to your porch and scream ‘YES!’ every morning?”  I looked dumbfounded at Tammy. She laughed, “Pretty much! It’s so beautiful here,” Tammy said motioning to the orchard and house, “but all this is Gary.” The red pickup truck pulled in beside us and Gary stepped out. We walked around the truck to meet him, and as we shook hands he motioned to the full flatbed of ‘ground apples.’ “They’re beautiful,” I said as I started to snap pictures. “Ya, I’ll take these and dump them out back for the deer to eat. We don’t use ground apples ever.” Gary stated. I looked at the apples again, some of them were rotten but most of them looked, for lack of a better word, perfect. My mind then immediately jumped to the delicacy of apple fed venison and had to pull myself back to reality. “Well… what do you want to see?” Gary asked. “Everything.” I quickly responded, “I’m nosey.” He laughed a little and nodded then began walking up to the back building. As we approached some stacked apple boxes and a row of tables with a few scales, Gary began explaining their routine, “This is where we do all our processing. We do everything by hand. We pick the apples, clip them, clean them, sort them, then clean them again, and weigh them.” Because they do everything by hand, they can meet special orders and do custom weights. I peered into the boxes overwhelmed by their blush colored contents, then looked up, “Wait… Just the two of you? Or do you have help?” Without a moments hesitation Gary repeated my statement, “Just the two of us.” I raised my eyebrows and looked back over my shoulder at the 250 apple trees. Gary seemed to read my mind, “It’s hard, you know? You can’t hire people when you don’t know how much you’ll make off the apples.” I asked how long his work days were, and he said during long summer days he’ll go out before the sun and come in after dark.

I turned back and mindlessly reached in the box and grabbed an apple for closer inspection. The skin was so beautiful and

The cider press

perfect I could see little reflections on the surface. “Wow,” I said, “This really is a beautiful apple. Is it waxed or something?” I looked up at Gary. His answer was already waiting for me, “No. I don’t use anything like that on my apples. I mean I could use a wax and still be considered organic, but I won’t. That’s just who I am.” I knew he meant it. This also got us talking about the fact that Little America Orchard is USDA certified Organic. A process that you don’t go through unless you are patient and 100% serious. He walked me through the seemingly endless paperwork, the bi-annual visits from inspectors, and the rigorous testing. “Sometimes I roll my eyes and wonder why I do this,” Gary’s tone suggested he was only half joking.  He quickly pointed to the bushel behind the table and explained that these were the cider apples. “Do you want to see the cider press?” Tammy asked. I nodded emphatically. Gary walked me over to a door that opened onto an industrial stainless-steel wash basin and uncovered a beautiful, massive, old-fashioned cider press. “WOW!” I squealed. “Is it a hand press?” “Yep, like I said we do everything by hand. We’ll probably start doing cider here at the end of the month.” I started to salivate.  I helped him put the cover back on the press, and trailed behind him out the door to join back up with Tammy. We stood out front for a second, when Tammy pointed up the hill and asked if I wanted to see the cooler.

 

Now, obviously, when there is a cooler on an apple farm, it should be no surprise when said cooler is full of apples. I still was surprised. I was even more shocked when Gary pointed out that, “These are only Galas, when the other varieties start coming on, you won’t even be able to walk in here.” I was positively giddy. Even in a cooler, the fresh delicious apple-y scent permeated everything. Not the synthetic Bath and Body nonsense, but the real stuff. My lizard brain was going crazy as Gary closed the massive door. We turned and looked back at the orchard and began to walk down. “So how many other varieties do you have?” I asked. “Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Cameo, Pink Lady, and Braeburn,” Gary answered quickly and precisely and started listing why he chose these five. He also went into detail about their staggered growing seasons. I was struggling to get my chubby fingers to type fast enough on my phone, I made the note to try voice recording from here on out. Gary told me that he had bought the trees out of Washington in ’03 and as part of the ‘Certified Organic’ process, he had to have them inspected upon purchase. “Wait, I thought you said you started in ’09?” I stopped. “That’s the first year we got fruit off the trees. That’s the first year we certified the fruit. The process started way before that.” I was beginning to see the true scope of the never-ending paperwork Gary had mentioned. “You said this was a childhood dream, did you grow up around apples?” I asked. Gary then described growing up in upstate New York and every October visiting the orchards: doing the U-picks, drinking cider, and being swept up in the spirit of apple season. It wasn’t hard to imagine the magic of those apple orchards when I looked across at Gary’s own little apple filled paradise.

The boxes of beautiful Galas, Gary and Tammy outside the cooler.

As the three of us stepped across the threshold into the orchards, the thought crossed my mind that this was probably hands down the most beautiful orchard in Utah. Gary spaced the trees farther apart than average (13 ft. to be exact) to help mitigate the spread of disease. Dark, lush rows of clover run under the trees to, “Fixate nitrogen into the soil for the trees.” Gary said while reaching up to grab an apple. “Let me show you this one. It’s been so incredibly dry this year that the grasshoppers have cleaned the leaves off of all these trees.” Gary mumbled, in between bites of his apple. “See watch, he knows everything about these trees. He’s out here all the time.” Tammy whispers and nods supportively.  I laughed, recognizing this mindset anywhere. It’s something that only happens when you work the same piece of land over and over. It becomes a family member. You do everything in your power to help it succeed and love it even when it’s being difficult. It’s absolutely beautiful to see this connection first hand. Gary finally made it to the row of grasshopper vandalized trees and showed me the raw exposed branches. He then pointed to a few stray apples on the ground. “My chore today is to clear the ground so the rabbits and ants don’t come in.” He joked finishing his apple. “So, a lot of what you do as an Organic grower is proactive.” I commented. “EXACTLY!” Gary answered, “I do everything I can to stop the problem before it starts, because the stuff I spray with every 10 or 15 days you can pretty much eat.” We walked through row after beautiful row. The fruit ranging in color from blush to gold to green to pink against the gray skies. Gary pointed out the different shades, saying things like, “You won’t see that in a chemical apple.” When I asked him to elaborate, he told me about all the different chemicals you can put on a tree not just pesticides. “You know that cooler up there? Big orchards will have a bunch of them. They’ll fill it with apples and put a chemical in there commonly called ‘smart fresh’ seal it up, and as long as it stays sealed those apples will keep for up to two years.” My stomach turned, and I think from the look on my face, Gary could tell he had sold me.

Clockwise from the left: Gary inspecting grasshopper damage, apples, apples , and more APPLES!

We circled back toward the house and Gary mentioned that he had to feed his gigantic Koi fish. “What?” I stopped. “Do you want to feed them?” He asked. “Yes, yes I do.” We walked around the deer apples and talked about food and farming. He pointed out neighboring orchards and ponds. We approached the gigantic man-made pond and he whistled for the Koi to come. As he sprinkled the food pellets hundreds of mouths and different patterns emerged out of the water. I laughed and tried to get pictures. “Do you have these for fun?” I chuckled. “No, I sell them too sometimes. Mostly to places in Vegas, but they’re fun.”  He explained sizes to me and patterns and then we walked back toward the house, where Gary disappeared into the orchard again and Tammy took me around the house. While we were standing on the deck, I turned to her and said, “Well what if I never want to leave?” Tammy laughed and understandingly said, “Everyone says that.” I smiled at her and thanked her for sending me off with a few bags of apples. On the way out, I stopped a record breaking five times to take pictures. I smiled all the way home. When I unloaded, I cut up an apple to share with my son and husband. I am not ashamed to admit, that after my first bite I immediately took all the pieces out of their hands and grabbed the plate and ate my apple alone in a corner. They’re that good.

The beautiful orchard

If you would like to get your hands on some apples from Little America Orchard, they will be selling at the Downtown Farmers’ Market at Ancestor square for the rest of the season or you can reach them at littleamericaorchard@hotmail.com or by phone at (435) 414-5554.

Laine Gabrielsen of Five Fingers Farm

When you get involved in community-oriented events, you start seeing how intertwined the community really is. Everyone knows somebody who knows somebody who makes something and so on. It’s not uncommon for artisans or farmers to recommend people to me saying things like, “You should call them, they do (insert something random and amazing here).” So, when one of our talented art vendors, Hannah Gabrielsen, asked if her sister could sell baked goods, I wasn’t surprised and was more than happy to oblige. However, what did catch me off guard was when Laine Gabrielsen, the younger sister, showed up with a full-blown farm set up slinging eggs, fresh chickens, onions, sourdough goodies, and a sign heralding tours of their farm. I walked up to the booth, “Wow, so you’re a farmer not just a baker! You do tours?” Laine smiled and nodded. Hannah chimed in, “You should see the farm sometime. It’s literally the happiest place on earth. She has goats.” I laughed but set a reminder in my phone to schedule a visit to New Harmony. Over two months later, I finally got a chance to visit Five Fingers Farm and it was worth every second of the 40-minute northbound journey on the I-15. I pulled up to the beautiful hand painted sign and unlatched the gate. As I drove up the gravel road, I could see Laine’s silhouette waiting for me at the end of the driveway next to what looked like a huge white boulder. When I got closer, I realized the boulder was a gigantic white dog. As I opened my car door, the great white beast met me face to face. “Hi!” Laine piped, “This is Murphy. Just push him aside.” Murphy, a Great Pyrenees-Newfoundland mix, did not move until he received his mandatory hello snuggles then quickly circled back to Laine’s side; a post he maintained for the duration of my visit.

The Farm

Laine, Murphy, and I began to stroll around the farm. “Have you lived here your whole life? How’d you end up in New Harmony?” I asked anxiously. “My mom grew up gardening and my parents (Todd and Liz Gabrielsen) moved all over California, then to Salt Lake and about 10 years ago my mom just really wanted to move back to a small town and work the land. They began looking and found this place.” Nine years ago, the property was in foreclosure, had only a house on it, and was filled with junk. “Every oil change the man ever made was sitting in buckets out back,” Laine said, pointing to a patch of land near where the present day greenhouses are. “On top of all the physical trash we had to remove, the soil showed every sign of erosion and overgrazing. Our main focus since then has been to rebuild the soil. If the soil is healthy, everything else is.” I would soon realize how serious she was. Everything at Five Fingers Farm is about soil.

We meandered down the green, open path that led down to the various pens of livestock. Hens, Guinea fowl, and roosters all paraded before us, moving in glistening feather ripples down the lawn and clucking in their various dialects. It was difficult not to start daydreaming about living there. “So, these guys just run around all the time?” I said, gesturing at the menagerie of birds in front of me. “Yep!” Laine answered, “All of our birds are free range. They play a huge part in rebuilding the soil,” She went into a deep breakdown of the biochemical makeup of chicken poop and how it’s good for immediate pasture use but needs to be broken down for garden use. “We also look at them as the clean-up crew. They will come in and get rid of pests and prevent a lot of diseases from spreading… Also, they’re just happier and healthier running around.” Laine smiled. I asked if they were organic. “For us organic isn’t the end all be all. I mean, there are chemicals we won’t spray, but for me to feed them organic I’d have to have it shipped in across the country and by that time the carbon footprint alone isn’t worth it. It’s our belief that local is better.” I wanted to bow to her but thought that would make it weird, yes local is better, I echoed in my mind. “The chickens live the way they were meant to live, we feed them what they’re supposed to eat, no soy, from a local supplier that we like. I think that’s good enough.” Behind me was a stainless-steel table that Laine pointed at matter-of-factly, “This is where we do the slaughtering, we’re all open air which keeps it super clean.” She explained that they had learned how to process their own birds from a New Harmony old timer and were committed to growing the operation but still doing it right. I was a little stunned. No smell, no stains, no waste. Just a calm red barn and a beautiful morning.

I stood and stared at the beautiful red barn for a minute, wondering if it was for events or for actual use. Almost as if she read my mind, Laine pointed at the barn telling me about how it was, in fact, used for animals in the winter, and that it too played a part in rebuilding the soil. “We use the manure as fertilizer, but instead of mucking out the stalls and breaking our backs every day, we do what’s called deep bedding.” First, they put out straw and when the animals have done their business to the point of needing new straw, they scatter grain across it, then start over. “When it needs to be turned, we let the pigs in there and they’ll turn it looking for the grain.” Almost as if on cue, the pigs in front of us started squealing for our attention. “Ah, the pigs!” Laine said, as we got a little closer to the raucous pair, “You see how their snout curls up right there? It makes a perfect little shovel.  We also move them around to different areas of the farm and they turn the soil for us.” The back portion of their pen had been expertly tilled in huge rows. “I mean we could buy a tiller and do it ourselves but this way we get bacon out of it,” Laine shrugged. I couldn’t help but giggle, “Bacon is good.” The two pigs, sourced from Ivins, bounced along the fence squeaking their side of the story. It was all I could do to resist reaching in the pen and ruffling them like puppies. “Be careful they bite,” Laine stated. I kept my hands to myself.

The pigs. chickens running a muck, and the glorious Bucket the Buck.

As we turned, we were met with the greenhouses and Bucket, their buck goat. “Almost all our animals are named after Shakespeare characters,” chimed Laine, as she made the introduction. I asked Bucket to smile for me and snapped a quick picture. As Bucket and I sat there ogling each other, Laine walked me through the history of how they went from dairy cows to goats. She explained that they had better luck processing it, but there were some failed experiments. I must admit, at this point we were less than half way done with our farm tour and I was flabbergasted by Laine’s knowledge and commitment to the farm. I felt a little jealous of the fact that she’s found her calling so young but simultaneously felt super grateful to her for sharing her passion. We left Bucket and headed to the two greenhouses behind him. I asked if they were store bought or custom. “These are custom built by a friend of ours. We told him that we wanted greenhouses and he said that he had figured out a design that could withstand the winds that come through here. So, we put them in and they’ve been perfect!” She cracked the door and my jaw dropped as we were greeted by a tomato forest. “Holy crap!” I exclaimed as I stepped in. “Ya, they love it in here!” Laine smiled. I learned that most diseases that affect tomatoes are wind born so the greenhouse keeps them protected. It also plays a huge part in keeping them safe from the farm’s grasshopper invasion, which had wiped out several plots already.  We moved to the next greenhouse. “This is our Fall greenhouse, so we’ve just planted it.” There were different crops of arugula, spinach, beets, and cabbage. “Do you guys live off of what you grow on the farm?” I asked. “Probably about 40- 50% of what we eat comes from the farm, but I would say 75% of what we eat is local. We like to support our other local farms too.”

the view of the Five Fingers

We stepped out of the greenhouse into the mid-morning sun, where we were rejoined by Murphy, and began to walk around the pasture. As I followed Laine, she started pointing out the water drainage patterns on the property. She showed me the berms they had built to keep the water from flowing straight off the property. I asked them if they had water rights, acting like I had a clue what I was talking about. “Yes we do, but wells are notorious for going dry around here. That’s why it’s so important to have good soil. If the soil is good, it will hold the water. If it’s not, the water just runs off.” As I trailed behind her she would point to little things around us, saying phrases like, “Do you see that? That’s a good sign!” and “Look! That wasn’t like that a year ago.” When we turned to start heading up to the orchard, I looked up, “WOW.” The Five Fingers of Kolob were glistening in the sun. “Ya, it’s beautiful.” Laine sighed. “Is that where the name comes from?” I asked. “It’s one of the reasons,” Laine answered, “There are also five of us in the family and my mom wanted us to know that there is no shame in working the land with your hands.” Beautiful, I thought. She unhinged the gate in front of us, and Laine, Murphy, and I walked through into the orchard filled with grapes, peaches, and apples. The grasshoppers had left their mark here too. The apple trees were full of fruit but missing all their leaves. I pointed to a brand-new structure being built and asked if they were putting in a tiny home. “No, my brother is building a shed, but we are totally inspired and want to build a tiny house next,” Laine laughed.

Here, we crossed the lilac hedgerow into the huge garden, which quickly became my favorite spot on the property. Beautiful, lush, green foliage cascaded out of every raised bed. Tall, healthy rows of plants trailed down one side. Laine pointed out that in this area they practice no till gardening. The reason why is to preserve the fungi systems that run through the soil, making it easier for the plants to get the nutrients they need. We walked through the rows of gigantic squash and other plants to the bench swing, “Ah, this is my favorite spot!” Laine exclaimed, “Every farm needs a spot where you can sit down and look out and enjoy your hard work.” She sat down and began to swing, smiling completely content. We traded spots and I realized that Laine’s sister really was telling the truth: Five Fingers Farm really is the happiest place on earth. It would make everything worth it to be able to sit down every evening to that view.  As we started down the rows, Laine started sharing her favorite fermenting recipes for beans and cucumbers. We came upon the cinderblock root cellar her dad put in and Laine mapped out what she hoped would be a future berry bramble.  As we approached the house, Liz was out and about with a basket of fresh vegetables. She was wonderful and excited and insisted I take a loaf of bread and some tomatoes. Two things I never turned down.

clockwise from the left” Laine in the Fall greenhouse, tomato forrest, apple trees with no leaves, and some of the garden

I began my long drive home with my car filled with the scent of fresh bread and admiration for Laine and her family. I ran through all the projects they had going and all the work the 20-acre farm takes and how it truly is a family effort and a life’s work. I left the farm feeling like I had a better understanding of life in general and couldn’t wait for Saturday to buy one of Laine’s chickens. Laine sells most Saturdays at the Downtown Farmer’s Market at Ancestor Square and you can follow her on Instagram HERE, be sure to reach out and schedule your own tour!

Donny Terpstra

The first time I saw Donny Terpstra unloading his booth at the Farmers’ Market I was in shock, then immediately became suspicious. I thought, there is no way he is growing all of this. The mounds and mounds of fresh, organic, leafy greens and vegetables make Donny’s table look like a set-up from Whole Foods. It’s impressive and delicious. Because of this completely unfounded suspicion, I was relieved by Donny’s cool acceptance to be interviewed. Finally, I was going to get to the bottom of things. The hour drive to Enterprise on Hwy 18 is a slow climb in elevation where the scenery ranges from dramatic red sand to wild green mountain-scapes. After making a few twists and turns through the town I saw a Shoal Creek Berries sign popping out of a wall of trees. I quickly turned right and got about 5 ft into the driveway when I stopped and audibly gasped, “Holy crap”. Shoal Creek Farm is the homestead I’ve dreamed of since a child. Overwhelming amounts of greenery and color protruded from every patch of earth. Beautifully manicured rows of berry bushes wrapped around the house and the flower beds looked like they belonged in a Martha Stewart catalog.

Donny greeted me as I hopped out of my car. “Wow this is beautiful! Is this your place?” I blurted out, ready to dump a thousand questions that were forming in my mind. “Oh no. It’s Darrell’s. Let me get him.” Donny sent his son, who works with him, to go find Darrell Humphrey. Minutes later, he pulled up on a 4-wheeler. I immediately understood why Shoal Creek Berries was the stuff of children’s books. Darrell is the quintessential grandpa figure. A tall, sweet faced, elderly man that welcomed me profusely and launched into stories of the good old days. He told me how the 5-acre farm had been organic since before organic was even a thing. For 10 years he and his wife Karen have worked their land naturally for no other reason than because it was the right thing to do. Darrell apologized for how the farm looked, explaining that this season has been particularly hard because of the heat and the terrifyingly low amount of water. I chortled, which received confused looks. I was struggling to make sense of the statement that the green paradise in front of me was not having a good year. It was here Donny pointed out random, empty garden plots and naming the crops they had lost due to drought. Darrell again reiterated my welcome and left with a statement of full confidence in Donny’s ability to show me around. “He’s the brain child behind the greens anyway,” Darrell stated as he started his 4-wheeler and rode away smiling and waving.

Left to right: Blackberry cuttings, Donny with the seedlings, and ‘the pit’

“Let’s start in the pit.” Donny pointed to the sunken structure to the left of me and I trailed behind him like an excited golden retriever. As I walked down the steps, Donny walked me through the construction of the pit, which made zero sense until I got to the bottom step and looked inside. I started freaking out. The pit is 5 ft deep and the retaining wall around the perimeter, keeping it all from caving in, is made out of old tires. In front of the tires are huge, black barrels of water. The water is heated by solar energy, which keeps the pit warm enough to grow year around. Having the structure half buried makes use of the thermal energy from the Earth, keeping it cool in Summer and warm in Winter. I’d like to say I was a professional and kept it together, but that would be a lie. I was pointing at everything and repeating, “Dude, this is AWESOME.” Donny calmly nodded and agreed, saying it turned out pretty cool. He wasted no time as he guided me through the diverse variety of seedlings and greenery contained in the pit. He pointed to a thick, well used, binder on the table. “This is my planting journal. I’ve had it for the past 5 years. I keep track of everything I ever plant, when they get transplanted, what area they’re in, and how well they do.” My face turned red with embarrassment over the fact that I can’t even keep my mail sorted. I followed him down the rows in awe.

 

I asked Donny why he decided to start an Organic Greens business. “Well I got sick.” Donny shrugged. Looking at me and seeing this answer wasn’t going to stop me from prying, he elaborated. Donny grew up around farming but found his way into concrete work and construction. In his early 30’s he had an accident and when he wasn’t healing right, his normal life got turned upside down. Donny described years of tests, the frustration of not knowing, and mostly the crippling pain. “I was finally diagnosed with a degenerative disease. I moved my family back here to be near my parents while we figured it out. Darrell first hired me as a berry picker but over the years he’s let me take on more and more. Because he knows if I sit still, the disease will put me in a wheel chair.” We stood there quiet for a moment. I was lost in the enormity of the situation, the kindness of strangers, and the literal life that was busting forth out of the ground from such a derailing experience. While I was having an existential crisis, Donny was listing other things to show me, “Let’s go to the greenhouses.” Donny turned on his heals and headed up out of the pit.

clockwise left to right: inside the greenhouses, squash leaves, back lot, and rows of blackberries.

Donny walked me through the next two greenhouses with the same matter-of-fact attitude, while I struggled to keep up. He described building the greenhouses out of electrical conduit and recycled cedar posts. “The first one was a little confusing, but we figured it out. It’s easy once you get it, so you can tell people to come out here and I’ll show them how to do it.” The first greenhouse had rows of chard and huge bunches of kale. Donny explained that they had already cycled through a spinach crop and when they planted a second batch, all the crops would rotate their placement. It was stunning. In the second greenhouse, they were using a method called companion planting. There were long, green rows of tomato plants and each plant was encircled with Romaine, Basil, and Cilantro. Donny mentioned that he sells the Basil to local restaurants and would soon be able to produce 30 lbs a week. To put that in perspective, Basil leaves are as light as a feather. That’s a whole lot of Basil.

 

As we circled the property, every few steps there was another project that solidified Donny’s farming superhero status. We came upon the compost heap. He led me through the huge vermiculture compost tea operation they had. “If I have a plant that is struggling, a few sprays of this on the leaves and boom! It’s fixed.” He described each layer inside the compost bin and how it filters the compost into the most nutrient-dense plant fertilizer known to man. Then he uncovered the top and dug down to show me the worms and their rich, dark castings. Even I knew I was looking at black gold. We rounded the last corner bringing me back to my car. I was about to leave when Donny said, “Want to see the wood fire ovens.” My eyebrows lifted and my head started involuntarily nodding.
I shut my car door, and again hurried to keep up with Donny and his unstoppable go-go pace. A short distance away, we came upon 3 huge, free-standing wood fire ovens. They were built with broken bits of concrete, insulating layers of sand, and layers of handmade adobe. He then started describing all of his favorite recipes and I stood in complete disbelief at the amount of things this guy gets done. I asked if he gets his ideas off of Pinterest. Donny looked at me confused as if I was talking in tongues. I was flushed with the realization that people like Donny didn’t use Pinterest, people like Donny is who Pinterest is based on. After that, looking around the farm, I saw every project I had ever pinned brought to life and I felt a pang of jealousy.

Donny and the wood fire ovens. One has a face because he was bored.

We said goodbye and as I began my journey home I stopped in the driveway, taking in my final breathes on the property and absorbing its beauty one last time. As I drove home I ran through every twist and turn we had taken on the farm; recognizing that every bunch of kale and Swiss Chard was the product of a life’s work, not just an afternoon here and there, but every moment from sun up to sun down. The piles of food on the market table suddenly transformed into bundles of hours and devotion. I understood now why Donny’s displays look outrageous to a normal person, because Donny is not your average farmer. He’s Super Farmer and we are so crazy grateful to have him in our community. Donny Terpstra and Shoal Creek Berries is a corner stone vendor of the Downtown Farers’ Market and can be found there every Saturday 9 am- noon. They also host u-pick berry events in the fall.  You can follow Shoal Creek Berries on Facebook HERE or if you need to place an order you can head over to their website HERE

Finney Farm

Quick back story: nine years ago, my husband and I visited St. George because his band was playing a show at the Ancestor Square Farmer’s Market. As they picked some tunes, I shopped and enjoyed the local scene. I stumbled upon a cheese vendor. Blown away by the product, I bought a huge square of sharp cheddar and when the show ended we went back to our friend’s house. We all stood around this block of orange goodness and devoured it in less then an hour. I, no joke, have made reference to that cheese once a month for the past NINE YEARS, and every time cursing myself for not remembering the brand. This cheese was that good. Fast forward to last April when Utah passed HB 181, a law allowing raw milk to be sold from a refrigerated van, making it possible for Winford Barlow (a.k.a Finney) of Finney Farm to sell at the Farmer’s Market again which I had just joined as management. My excitement about solving my-cheese-that-got-away mystery was more alarming than flattering I’m sure, but I still managed to convince Finney it was safe to take me on a tour of his dairy.

 

The Finney Farm store front against the beautiful scenery.

If you take the UT-59 out of Hurricane you’re in for a glorious drive past Gooseberry Mesa, Apple Valley, and the quiet town of Hildale. It’s a small unassuming town that is slammed up against magnificent red rock faces. In my mind I refer to Hildale as “Tiny Zion.” I followed the little wooden signs promising ‘raw milk’ up a winding back road until I saw the small red store front emblazoned with two gigantic white Fs. I got out of my car and immediately tried to capture the early morning light hitting the gigantic rock face that backs up to the property. When I looked down the dirt road I saw Finney walking up to greet me. He had a big smile on his face and waved. “Isn’t it beautiful?” He pointed up at the mountain. He then began to tell me about all the great hikes up there and how next time I should plan one out. I nodded in agreement still trying to get my bearings. He beckoned me to follow him back down the dirt road. As I trailed after him, I asked why they chose cheese. Finney quickly answered that his wife had always made cheese and she got him into it. They have been in the industry for over 25 years graduating from both the Washington State University and Utah State University Cheesemaking programs.

We came down upon a beautiful red barn that matched the store front we had just left and in front of me were the sweetest Dulce de Leche colored cows I’ve ever seen. Finney started introducing me to the cows telling me their names, their birthdays, when they gave birth, favorite sleeping positions, and where they like to hang out. He would call out a name and a cow would look at him. I was struck by how responsive the cows were to him, they seemed more like gigantic dogs than the angry Black Angus that I grew up with. They are Brown Swiss cows. Finney said they chose that breed because they have high milking yields and they are extremely resistant to heat, which is the deciding factor of day to day life here in the desert. I asked if they used hormones on the cows. He shook his head, “We don’t use anything like that. We have a system. If they need rest, we rotate them out. We keep them healthy and they do just fine.” In a moment of naivety, I thought to myself that this was probably the case for most small, back yard ranches but not serious operations. I was about to learn just how serious of an operation Finney Farm was.

Inside the stainless steel dairy and the list of the registered cow’s names

As we walked through the doors into the big red barn shaped building, I was overwhelmed with all of the stainless steel and the high-tech instruments. Finney explained how the temperature is carefully monitored, how they test daily for bacteria in their state of the art lab on the top floor (they measure 0% bacteria by the way), and how they process 260 gallons of milk a day. “A DAY?!” I asked. Finney nodded. “Everything is processed within 24 hours of milking.” My jaw dropped. He showed me the milking and sanitization processes. He took me outside to their Mozzarella smoker. Picking up on how excited I was getting, Finney showed me their new experimental batches of cheese. He pulled out the most beautiful cheese wheel I had ever seen. It was their new bandaged wrapped English style Cheddar (which means it’s coated in butter before it starts aging). He then pointed out their new feta and sheep milk cheeses. I stood there flabbergasted. “Is this all your storage?” I asked with a hint of jealousy. “Oh no, we have an aging hanger across town. We have about 16 tons aging right now. Most of it over 5 years old.” I started laughing. That means somewhere in the small quaint town of Hildale is hiding 16 tons of some seriously delicious cheese. It brought a whole new kind of treasure hunt to mind.

From left to right: Finney’s famous curd, Finney showing off the English Cheddar, and aging sheep milk cheeses

 

Our tour was wrapping up and we walked back through the building. One of Finney’s daughters was filling frozen yogurt containers. He looked at me, “Do you want a frozen yogurt cone?” With a huge smile, I said yes. He quickly and professionally filled me a waffle cone with the prettiest cream and purple colored yogurt I’d ever seen. He filled one for himself and his son. We walked outside into the

This houses the entire operation and at the top of the white staircase is the only spot you’ll receive cell service on the whole property.

early morning sunlight and ate our frozen yogurt. It was perfect. I trailed behind Finney back up to the store front with a belly full of happiness. He gave me a tour of the store which not only sells all their raw milk products but locally made bread and tortillas. I thought this would be the perfect stop before heading up the canyon for a hike. I bought some sharp cheddar and tortillas and said my goodbyes as I stopped one last time to take in the spectacular view. I left feeling good about being able to bring such an amazing product from such a beautiful place to St. George.

 

Finney Farm will be one of the cornerstone vendors featured every weekend at the Farmer’s Market at Ancestor Square. If you find yourself with a free afternoon and some cheese needs, head out to Hildale for some hiking and visit the Finney Farm store front. You can keep up with Finney’s on Facebook here or visit their homepage here. I would like to point out also that my tour of the farm is a special occurrence, they must protect the biosecurity of the farm so the number of visitors to the animals is limited.