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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.

The farmers’ market prides itself on being local and seasonal. It’s so interesting to watch the back and forth between these two dynamics because it not only applies to the food but to the vendors. There are people who come later in the season because that’s when their crops start going off, or they stop coming, or they start out as an every-other-week participate until things get going. The farmers let us know. One week they’ll walk up and say they’re done and they’ll see us next year. It is sometimes bittersweet but mostly a pleasant reminder of the need to savor the season. Brian and Janet Linder are a great example. They begin the season coming every other week, starting with eggs, then house plants, and gradually produce. Pretty soon Janet will show every week with boxes full of squash the size of your arm. So, when I started seeing her and her wonderful produce more often, I knew a trek to Beryl was in order. She brought me a hand drawn map and emphasized its importance. I nodded and put it in my notebook thinking that Google Maps would probably be more useful. But it turns out that driving around Beryl, Utah is like stepping into a time machine. For example, there is still only one house per block, an open skyline, and everything is referred to by distance from the railroad tracks. I tried my best to navigate my way to the Linder’s but it turns out Google Maps can’t tell the difference between actual roads and private property access roads. I dug around for the map but it was too late, thanks to that wide-open skyline, Janet saw my distress a mile away and drove out to meet me with a smile. “You were doing so good, then you weren’t!” She laughed through her open window. I tried to blame Google but she just waved me off and turned her car around and piloted me to the Linder’s 20-acre plot.

 

Brian Linder in the front garden.

As I pulled in I could see Brian’s silhouette out watering the green stretch of garden. A stark contrast when placed in front of the dry, gnarly, natural landscape of sagebrush and cactus. Janet said she had blueberry muffins baking for us and that she was glad I was running a little late because it gave them time to cool. I smiled at the storybook scene of eating blueberry muffins on a farm in the early morning sun. Together we walked over to Brian. As we got closer, the indiscernible green patches he was tending began to come into focus. Huge squash leaves the size of my head stretched out in every direction, littered with pops of yellow flowers and hidden zucchini. A scare crow flapped in the wind beside me. We all stood there smiling at the plants for a minute. “Wow, so this is the garden! It’s huge!” I tried to finagle a picture while Brian walked me through the initial layout and how it has expanded over the years. He pointed out many more crops on the back of the property. It was a lot to take in, so it was decided that while Brian finished watering before the heat set in, Janet would show me around.

 

Janet and I began walking around the property to the other lush, green patches. “So… how did you end up out here in Beryl? Did

The view from the back of the property.

you grow up in St. George?” I asked. “No, we are both from California. We moved out here in 2012.” Janet answered. Without skipping a beat, Janet started filling in the gaps. In California, she had worked her way up to an awesome job with the school district. “I worked all the time. It was a lot of stress and that’s not good for you.” Janet said. Soon she was diagnosed with Lymphatic cancer. She said, “There was a point during chemo where I just looked at Brian and said I’m done. I want peace. I want to live somewhere quiet where you grow me food, and we can live off the land. This isn’t worth it. So, we moved here and that’s what we do. We try to only eat what we grow.” I stopped and shook my head for a second, as if to make sure I heard that correctly, “Wait… You ONLY eat what you grow?” She nodded. “Ya, mostly. We have gotten to the point where we are mostly vegan now. I don’t really even eat eggs that much anymore.” I looked at her hard for a minute waiting for the ‘just joking’ but it never came. I’ve always dreamed of living that way but either through convenience or lack of self-discipline, I’ve never got there. Janet continued, “I buy some gluten-free dairy-free bread, some nuts, and Veganaise but that’s about it.” So many more questions began racing in my head, but all I could think of was, “What do you eat?” Janet laughed. I’m sure, living in Utah, she gets asked this question a lot.

Janet then humored me by walking through a basic menu: sautéed onions and potatoes for breakfast, a veggie sandwich for lunch, then soups or salads for dinner. We turned the corner to another garden with manicured rows covered by wood chips. “This is the potato field. Brian will just dig some up when we need them.” She said it like it was so simple. “The farmers’ market is a hobby. We only sell our excess. We mainly do this to feed ourselves.” A little stunned, I was struggling to find my next question. It was simple. All of it. So why was I struggling so hard with the basic concept? After all, this is how it had always been. It’s only the last few generations that stopped living off the land. The only thing I could think of to ask was, “Well are you feeling better?” Janet gave me a wide smile, “Definitely.” She started walking to the next plot and telling me that since being there she’s been gradually weaning herself off her medications. We approached the next plot which had a tomato pit and the frames of old trampolines cut in half to form the frame of a green house. Janet told me about Brian experimenting with different frames, hoping to find one that would help the plastic casing resist the harsh Beryl winds, “We haven’t succeeded yet. Every year it gets ripped to shreds. Then we’ll go back to Google, look up more stuff, and try again.” She chuckled. Janet quickly pointed to another little plot and we began to head that way.
“Sorry about the weeds, that’s how you can tell we’re organic.” Janet started explaining all the different crops they had rotated through over the years. “A customer at the market will ask for something I’ve never heard of, so we’ll try and grow it.” She said while foraging through a viney plant. She quickly held out a handful of sweet peas. “Here try these. They’re Japanese and super sweet.” I bit into them and sweet, delicious, crispness exploded in my mouth. I awaited the bitter aftertaste, but it never came. “These are AMAZING!” Janet agreed as she popped off dandelion flower heads and ate them. She then pointed out her strawberry patch and the young fruit trees they had planted. I asked how their season had been. “Hot.” Janet replied, I laughed a little knowing I had set myself up for that. I wondered if they had water issues like so many other farmers I knew. “We have a well so water isn’t a problem for us. The only thing is if we have a bad storm and lose power, we can’t get the water out of the ground. We are actually working on trying to get solar panels just to power the well so we don’t have to worry about it.” I tried to imagine being stuck in a power outage with no electricity and no water and sufficiently freaked myself out. I marveled at how matter of fact Janet seemed about the no-electricity-no-water situation.

left to right: the chicken coop, a group of golden comets, and the potato patch.

We circled back toward the house, and walked the route passed the chicken coop. The coop and it’s caged off areas are the mark of the previous owner who was a Beagle breeder. “I wanted to tear it down, not really thinking too much about it, but Brian’s brother pointed out it would be great for chickens, and it’s actually worked out perfectly.” She then went into a deep explanation of the hierarchy of their chickens. How these roosters attack these ones, how these younger ones liked certain areas but get picked on by the older ladies, and how her little army of Golden Comets roam free in certain sections of the yard. I stood totally enthralled by the flock and their movements. Looking up from here, I see the greenhouse built off of the back of the garage. It is expertly assembled from a hodge-podge of salvaged windows. “Brian collected all of these when he had his hauling business. He’s the kind of guy that you could give htwo rocks and he could figure out how to make a living off them!” Janet joked. I nodded silently in agreement as we approached and looked inside. Brian had finished watering at this point and joined us. He started filling me in. The greenhouse sunflower was a volunteer and no one was really sure how it got there, the broccoli plant actually produced broccoli that year, and the tomatoes preferred it in there. I smiled in agreement.

The inside and outside of the green house

As the three of us stood there looking out on the property Janet suggested coffee and muffins inside. We soon found ourselves around their wooden table enjoying the deliciousness of Janet’s baking. Brian gave me the inside scoop about other facts about the garden. How the woodchips that lined most of the beds were sitting in a pile by a city building for months, finally Brian went in and asked if he could have them if he hauled them away. He hoped it would help with the ground rot that potatoes are susceptible to. A very similar story accounted for the huge pile of wood logs that would eventually be used to provide heat throughout the winter. The more he went on, the more I realized the whole property is a testament to resourcefulness and using what you have. It’s like Thoreau’s Walden, but out here there is no pond. Almost everything is recycled, second hand, or salvaged; and everything serves a purpose. I was a long way from the hyper consumerism and wastefulness of modern life. I began to mentally edit my Amazon shopping cart. Realizing I had been there for almost 2 hours, which was way over my promised 45 min, I hurriedly tried to excuse myself, but there is no rushing in Beryl. We talked a little longer and I was sent on my way with a bag of yellow squash and zucchini. I drove back thinking of everything and vowed to live a little slower, eat a little greener, and to simplify. Come and support Janet and Brian every Saturday at the Farmers Market 9 am -noon at Ancestor Square.

The sunflower patch they harvest for seeds

Darren Pearce

There is a lot of behind the scenes work that goes into putting on the Farmers’ Market each year. We start cracking away at it in February; sending out emails, marketing, securing permits, and following up with and finding new vendors. From that moment on, all day every day, the phone rings off the hook with people pitching their ideas and products. We read, reread, and re-reread applications to make sure we have a diverse assortment of vendors with new and exciting products. Then we follow up, confirm and begin to set our line-up. That’s how we start the Farmers’ Market. Last March, it seemed every other day I had someone call and sign up to sell micro-greens. I’d write down their names but when I’d go to finalize their commitment they’d disappear off the face of the earth. So, by the time Darren Pearce from Pearce Family Farms called and said he was interested in coming on for the whole season with micro-greens, I was reminded of the poetry of Great White and felt once bitten twice shy. It took less than 10 minutes for me to realize that Darren was the real deal, a concept cemented after seeing his booth at the Farmers’ Market. From the educational handouts, the numerous varieties of micro-greens, to the packaging, it’s clear that Pearce Family Farms is here to stay. Which is one of the main reasons I was so excited to have the opportunity to check out their operation this week.

I pulled up to Darren and Katie Pearce’s beautiful home, rang the doorbell, and was greeted by Darren and a wave of activity. Little kids were running around, Katie had just finished canning peaches, and giggling could be heard everywhere. It seemed like the perfect place to sit down and talk about seriously good food. We planted ourselves in the living room and began at the beginning. Darren started telling me about growing up in a family of avid gardeners. Both grandpas had huge gardens, “My one grandpa was more experimental. He would let things grow wherever, but my Grandpa Pearce… He was methodical.” Darren talked about helping Grandpa Pearce every season and learning great lessons about keeping a perfect garden. That’s when a deep love for growing food started. “I’ve always told Katie that if I could find a way to grow food and make a living at it that I would. So, last year I really started looking into it and here we are.” I asked him how he made the decision to grow micro-greens. Darren replied, “Due diligence.” It started by following homesteaders on YouTube and Instagram, then he fell down a gardening rabbit hole. Darren walked me through his research process of calling restaurants, estimating cost and profit ratios, and analyzing multiple spreadsheets before he committed. I sat there thinking, Grandpa Pearce would be proud.

Left to right: Lovely Radish seedlings, Darren and some of the shelves, and baby Basil.

At this point in the conversation, I revealed how little I knew about micro-greens by asking Darren what the difference was between sprouts and micro-greens. He patiently explained to me that sprouting is done in a cool dark place and is basically the root of the plant. Micro-greens are grown in a soil substrate and is the actual seedling. This distinction is why micro-greens are so healthy for you, they contain all the nutrients from the seed. Darren went on to tell me that he had been eating a micro-green salad every day for a month and the difference in his energy levels and overall health has been dramatic. “The micro-green can be up to 40 times more nutrients than the grown version of the plant.” Darren again started explaining the basic growing process. He then quickly popped out of his seat saying it would be easier to just show me, and I followed him to the grow room. As soon as I stepped over the threshold into the room, I was hit with the overwhelming scent of fresh air as two walls full of green beauties grew silently before me. “WOW! This is awesome.” Katie peeked her head in smiling. “Do you love this?” I asked her, pointing to the plants. She smiled, “Yes I do. I’ll often come stand in here and ask him questions about stuff because I’m just in awe of what he’s doing.” I nodded in agreement. Awe is exactly what I felt.

Darren quickly began talking me through his growing schedule. He mixes the growing substrate himself out of coco core and perlite, then each tray is sprinkled with seeds that are so tiny that you can’t believe they grow into anything. Darren then waters them and stacks them to weight the seeds. This simulates the pressure of being buried in dirt. “During this time, I watch them really close because it’s so easy for them to dry out. Once they hit a certain point, I unstack them and then they just grow like normal seedlings.” The trays will sit under the energy conserving LED lights Darren has rigged to every shelf. He described the different lengths of grow cycles and how the main crops are ready in about a week. I asked him if he had any kind of pests or mold issues. Darren shook his head, “Because they grow for such a short period they never have time to develop any bug problems. Everything I do is organic, and I’ve never had mold.” He also explained that after one use, the soil gets composted for use in their home garden. Having fresh soil, each cycle ensures optimal nutrition and eliminates the possibility of contamination. Darren then started pointing out the different stages between the crops. He plants two cycles a week: one for his restaurant orders and one for the farmers’ market.

seedlings stretching towards the light and tiny seeds.

Darren started praising each micro-green and their appeal to the chefs: Arugula added a nice spice, Radish was a beautiful pop of purple, the Wellness Mix made a well-rounded salad. I couldn’t help but agree mesmerized by the undulating sea of purple at eye level. I made a mental note to buy Radish this Saturday. As we gently poked some sunflower seed shells off the top of the seedlings, I asked what the next step for Pearce Family Farms was. Darren replied that they were already planning to move the grow room to a bigger space sometime in the next month. Then he started explaining how he wanted to incorporate a home delivery option through nutritionists and health conscious programs. He also talked about expanding his specialty crops for chefs, such as micro Basil and harder to source items. I stood there looking around, feeling a little overwhelmed by the logistics of the operation: the planting schedule, frequent watering, hand trimming the harvest, packaging, and delivering. It would be so easy to miss one step and have it all come to a screeching halt, but then I remembered that being methodical and precise is in Darren’s blood and he’s got everything dialed in perfectly.

Darren Pearce and the micro-greens

Feeling my end-of-the-interview-smile coming on, I thanked Darren and Katie for letting me invade their space for the morning and hurried out the door. Each step I took on my way to my car was accented with a, “Wow.” I know, I know, I work for the Farmers’ Market, I shouldn’t be surprised by people growing things anymore, but there is something so raw and connecting when you watch someone make their passion their life. It’s inspiring when you see someone living in alignment with what they truly want to do. Pearce Family Farms is out there making it happen every day and we are beyond excited to have them as a cornerstone vendor of the market. Pearce Family Farms will be at the Downtown Farmers’ Market every Saturday 9 am- 12. You can follow them on Facebook here or touch base for orders at darren@pearcefamilyfarms.com.

Steve and Nicole Simmons, the power couple behind Nicole’s Honey

One of the things I’ve truly loved about working with the Farmer’s Market has been the cultivation of community. I get to meet all these wonderful farmers and artisans carving out a life in our neighborhoods and all the families who come out to support them.  I love to hear their stories. It’s a beautiful feeling to have in this day and age, where so many people feel disconnected from each other. It gives me hope. Our farmers this week embody this community spirit. This product is truly a community effort and is bringing people together for the sweet, sometimes savory, magical goodness that is Nicole’s Honey. Nestled in a beautiful little neighborhood in Hurricane is Nicole’s Honey headquarters, which is the beautiful home of Steve and Nicole Simmons. They welcomed me in and we sat down.

 

We started talking about the market, honey, and how it all started back in 2012. Nicole was a school teacher and a janitor at the school was offering beekeeping classes. He convinced Nicole and Steve to take the course. “After the first class I was hooked. I thought they were the coolest, most interesting creatures ever. I mean save the bees and all that,” Steve said laughing. That’s another thing you’ll notice about Steve and Nicole, they’re hilarious and always joking. They got their first hive that season and over the past 6 years have built up to their delicious 80 hive empire. When I asked where all the hives were, Steve replied “Everywhere.” To which Nicole promptly added, “Yes, if we’re driving around and we see a good spot, Steve will knock on their door. He’s not afraid to ask. We mainly trade honey for land use.” A pang of jealousy shot through my stomach. 80 familes are getting a sweet honey deal for helping with this local business. “We’ll do hive splits this year and next and hopefully have 300 hives.” At the mere mention of this, I could no longer hide my excitement. 300 hives!!!

A teaching comb that Steve brought out to show me when I first arrived.

I began asking about breeds. “We have Italians, Cordovan’s, and we’ve started using a Canadian breed Saskatraz. They are all super gentle breeds. Not aggressive at all. You want to go out and work the hive?” Steve threw in casually. Trying to judge if he was serious or teasing, I of course, said yes. Within minutes, we were all suited up and I was getting the run down of all the equipment. I was put in charge of the smoker (well… I held the smoker until Steve needed it). I followed him to their hive and he started explaining to me the basic set up. The bottom chambers are for the queen to lay in and build the hive. There is a little screen called a ‘queen excluder’ to keep her out of the top boxes that are reserved for honey collection. I was overwhelmed with how many working parts there are in a hive. We walked over to a ‘nuke’ hive which means they are just getting established and not yet producing honey. Steve coached me through cracking the lid. I have to say, it made me feel pretty rad. Suddenly, this golden sea of moving insects was exposed, which should have been terrifying, but instead was hypnotizing.  Steve started pulling out the frames and explaining the patterns that were appearing before me.

From left to right: Smoking the hive, bringing out the first frame, and examining the second frame

“See right here? They are just filling this in with the wax for the comb. It takes 7 pounds of nectar to create 1 pound of drawn out wax.” I don’t think Steve could read my shocked expression through my veil. He carefully set the frame aside. “We’ll keep going until we find the queen.” He pulled out the next frame and showed me completely different stages that were happening in front of my face. It was unreal. Every single frame was unique and had a whole different part of the bee’s journey unfolding in front of me. Steve and Nicole walked me through what happens in each stage of the comb cycle and how it effects the health and prosperity of the hive; again, reiterating how much love and attention goes into keeping these high maintenance fuzzy little girls happy and thriving. That’s another thing I learned: hives are not just ruled by a queen, but almost all the inhabitants are female. There are very few male/drone bees. As we were getting deeper into the hive, Steve pointed out the laying patterns of the queen and how productive she was. “This is a good queen. She’s doing everything right.” As we were examining the middle frame, I spotted a huge red dot on the back of a bee. Nicole congratulated me for spotting her first, and I felt like a bee rock star. Steve then explained how they mark the queens to keep track of them. A different color is used each year.  We watched her for a few amazing minutes. Steve was right, she was a good queen.

Try and spot the queen with her big dot.

We reassembled the hive and took off our gear. Steve, Nicole, and I went into their garage where all the processing happens. They have a radial extractor that does 400 revolutions per minute. “Before we had this electric one, I had one that was a hand crank. It sucked.” I laughed, and as they explained the process of hot knifing the comb and spinning out the honey, it didn’t take long to understand how grueling the work would be by hand. “What we’re known for is our creamed honey. No one does it to the extent and quality that we do. It’s a 14-day process of adding crystallized honey and liquid honey at certain temperatures and letting it evolve.” They walked me through the process of achieving there many different flavors. It was mind boggling to think that every jar represented months of bee collecting and weeks of processing. “Oh this is something else we do. Pure comb straight in the jar. We built these custom frames so we can just cut the comb out and drop it in the jar. Completely unprocessed, untouched by human hands.” He handed me a jar and as I examined it I realized that this was probably the closest I’d ever come to holding liquid gold.

from left to right: the radial extractor, the working hive, and raw comb honey.

It was getting late in the evening, so we said our goodbyes and I started my drive back. The whole night kept replaying through my head and it wasn’t hard to see the similarities between the hive of bees and the Farmer’s Market. We are all these individuals going out and harvesting little patches of earth or creating wonderful products, then we bring it to the heart of the city to spread out and share and build our hive. It’s so perfect. It’s almost as perfect as having an amazing evening learning about bees and looking over at the passenger seat and seeing a jar of fresh, sweet, local honey that was gifted to you by an amazing couple. You can grab yourself a jar of the same honey this Saturday at the market. You can also follow Nicole’s Honey on Facebook , or if you’d like to learn more about bees, get your own hive, or order honey during non-market season you can visit Nicole’s Honey here.

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.

 

Scott Sproul and Mary Matera-Sproul owners, founders, and the farmers of Baker Creek Lavender Farm

  • 4o minutes north bound from St. George on hwy 18 is Baker Reservoir. It’s beautiful and charming. The temperatures are a bit cooler and deciduous trees become more frequently scattered amongst the prickly pear and sage brush.  The reservoir is a gem that boasts no sandy beaches or cliff jumping but is perfect for a quiet getaway. This visit however, I felt a little crazy as we drove around on the winding back roads. Maybe we’re lost, I thought. My GPS had definitely lied to me before. There’s no way we were headed the right way; a sentiment echoed by my husband, who kept saying out loud, “We’re lost.” Finally, we turned up a driveway at Google’s insistence. I picked up the phone to call Scott Sproul, my husband mouthed the word “Lost” again at me. Scott answered upbeat and ready. I described where we were. He coached us down the driveway to the gate. There was Scott, waiting patiently. We had found it. Scott is one half of the incredible couple that has started Baker Creek Lavender Farm.

 

He invited us to ride with him back to the new fields. Excitedly, we piled in and took off. Scott immediately launched in to telling us about the property and what they were doing, stopping every now and then to point out his favorite hiking spots or where the wildlife liked to congregate. The 250+ acre ranch was originally purchased by his grandfather and had been in the family for over 50 years. He described the love and the memories that the whole family had for the land. This is how the agreement was made that each child got 5-6 acres for personal use. While some have built cabins, Mary and Scott went a delightfully different direction. When I asked him why they chose lavender, he credited Mary with the idea. About 5 years ago they stumbled upon a working lavender farm in California while on vacation and the seed was planted. Slowly the research started and a plan was put into place. It was decided that on weekends, when they have a break from their full-time jobs in Vegas, they would head up to the property and build it up piece by piece.

 

The beautiful walkway lined by trees leading to the new rows of lavender. This is one of the 5 varieties the farm is cultivating currently.

We drove along a seemingly endless wall of trees until finally it opened up on a sweet meadow that had been cleared to make way for the budding Lavender farm. We parked and hopped out. The farm is in the very beginning stages right now, but the magic is there already. The goosebumps began to run down my arms.  Scott explained the meticulous and painstaking process of clearing the fields, building the rock walls, measuring the rows, making the drip systems, and dealing with all the many natural occurring nuisances. He talked about how once, after 5 days and some unfortunate drip line clogs they had lost several plants. This can be a hard pill to swallow when Lavender takes 3 years to mature. We started to walk down the beautiful rows containing around 700 plants. They have 5 varietals planted right now. All of them sourced from an organic lavender farm in Palisades, Colorado. They plan on adding 3 more fields and topping out at 15 varieties of Lavender within the next year. Each has their own purpose: one for cooking, one for bouquets, one for oils, and much more.

When I asked about processing all of the different types of Lavender, Scott explained how they plan to do everything right there on the farm giving them complete control of the quality of the product. He also mentioned that they had plans to harvest the other plants on the land too. Offering such oils as Juniper, Snake Weed, and Sage. They are so committed to doing it right, they will be taking

One of the 5 varieties currently out at the farm. Happy and healthy in it’s lovely new home.

several classes in Boulder, Utah on how to sustainably harvest the plants on the property. He kept repeating gently that, “If you do it right, if you take care of the land, it’ll last forever.” It was inspiring to catch this sentiment in the early morning light of late spring.  It was all I could do to stifle giggling with excitement as we followed Scott to a shady spot at the edge of the field. “We call this the tree of life. It’s in our logo. We plan on building a huge deck around it so you can look out on the stream and the fields. Eventually there will be a labyrinth above it.”  We craned our heads upward trying to see the top of the tree. We kept stepping back, I quickly gave up on trying to get it in a single picture frame. My mind wandered to all the dreamy earthy weddings that were bound to take place here.

 

Our time was quickly approaching an end. I had promised when I first contacted them, to take up no more than an hour of Scott and Mary’s precious time in their paradise. I wanted to keep that promise, especially after seeing all the work they had to do. As we started to load back into the side-by-side I was trying to think of a way to stay. It felt refreshing to be in a place that was so well loved. As we rode back, I made a promise I would have to come back when Mary was able to get away from work. As we said goodbye and loaded up the car, I realized how lucky I am to be able to work with these kind of people and bring their stories to the Farmer’s Market. We are so excited to be just a small part in this farm’s story and to be able to watch it from the very beginning. This will be Baker Creek Lavender Farm’s first season at the market, so make sure you stop by and meet them. Also, be sure to follow them on Facebook at Baker Creek Lavender Farm to keep up to date on all the happenings and to schedule your own visit.

Scott with the fields and the lovely ride out.