Isabelle Farm in Colorado focuses on family, organics and local products
July 3, 2017
Several times a year, students in Boulder Valley School District come out to Isabelle Farm for a field trip. They touch and smell the dirt. They learn the difference between good and bad bugs.
They see the foods they eat in a field, rather than a grocery store.
Natalie Condon, who owns and operates Isabelle Farm with her husband Jason, said last year a group of students stood in the field eating fresh-picked vegetables and chanting, "Broccoli! Broccoli! Broccoli!"
Experiences like that — children seeing agriculture for the first time or community members finding exactly what they were looking for — are what Isabelle Farm is based on.
Isabelle Farm started in 2005 and has grown to 500 acres of organic vegetables and grains and it's home to a thriving Community Supported Agriculture program, or CSA, and a popular Boulder County farm stand. For the first five years of the farm, both Jason and Natalie worked full time jobs in addition to running the farm. They each worked about 100 hour weeks. Then, as the farm grew, so did the manpower need. Jason left his job first and started dedicating all his time to the farm, as his true passion was always growing. Two years later, Natalie left her career in magazine publishing for a full-time farm life.
"It's sort of just been an evolution," Natalie said. "Neither one of us really ever, ever dreamt we'd be able to farm as many acres as we do now in Boulder County. We just never thought we could make it happen."
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Both Jason and Natalie grew up around agriculture. Jason is a third-generation Boulder County Farmer. Natalie spent summers on her family's organic dairy farm in Switzerland. They both had very different agricultural experiences growing up, but loved the idea of growing food for their family and community.
But one proposal to lease land from the city of Lafayette led to another and as the couple's passion for running their farm grew, so did the acreage. And the Condon family itself.
The two Condon children, 10-year-old Lucy and 7-year-old Gus, don't know a life off the farm. Natalie said their family doesn't live like a typical family — the kids don't have video games, the family doesn't have cable. They spend their time together and outside. With the focus on the family and the farm, the kids have blossomed into little farmers themselves. Gus is obsessed with the machinery. Lucy loves the growing itself.
"We just have made a lifestyle choice," Natalie said. "I'm really happy with the way our kids are growing up — definitely, totally, in tune with nature and the environment."
That environmental focus drives Natalie. When she and Jason decided to start the farm, the two pooled their experiences and compromised on a growing style. He grew up working for a large-scale conventional farmer. She experienced a family-based organic system. Though Natalie said she doesn't try to tell others the right way to run their business, because it varies for each person, she knew organic was the best option for her.
"I really believe that people should be able to farm in a way that makes the most sense for their lives and for their business and for their convictions," she said. "I eat food that's organic, therefore I'd rather grow food that's organic. That's really what it comes down to. And I do believe that the things we do today have long term repercussions. And so I Think the way we choose to farm today will have long term repercussions on the environment and on human and environmental health, and that's really where it comes from for me personally."
Natalie said the people who shop at Isabelle Farm become part of a farm-centered community. The customers and the participants in the CSA program have watched the Condon kids grow up. The Condons have seen their customers children grow and families evolve.
That focus on community is why Natalie and Jason limit the number of participants in the CSA program — they want to know their customers on an individual basis. Natalie can tell stories of folks who come to the store looking for certain items for certain health needs. She remembers their stories and their reactions to finding that perfect vegetable. And while she admits that organic, local produce isn't for everyone, she loves that her farm can fill that need for some.
"We don't need to be everybody's food source. We're just happy we're there and we live in a place where enough people value what we do and what we offer them that we can make this a viable business," she said. "I do believe this is not something you can do in every part of the country or every part of Colorado. I think you can really do this successfully in very few places, so we're lucky to be here."
Another important business goal for the Condons is to include other small business owners in the community. At the farm stand, customers can find everything from honey, to pottery and other small locally made items. Natalie said she and Jason vet the ingredients in every item they allow to come into their stand to make sure it is of the same quality as what the Condons could grow, make or raise. They want to make sure everything they offer is consistent and meets the criteria of items that they would want to provide their own family.
For Emma Hitch, a new employee at Isabelle Farm this summer, working for a local farm has connected her to a lifelong dream and a new lifestyle.
Hitch moved to Colorado from near Boston, Mass., because she always dreamed of moving out West and working on a farm. She's only been at Isabelle Farm for about a month, but it's provided her a look into the rural way of living she always dreamed about.
"It's hard work, especially out in the field, but I love it," Hitch said. "It's a great environment."
For other employees, like Megan Kram and Jamie Center, the Isabelle Farm Stand is a way to connect with the community on a vital level.
Kram said people from around the Lafayette, Colo., area come into the store and they aren't just looking for produce. They're looking for the experience of buying local food. Kram gets to interact with these customers and remember them for next time, something she said she finds rewarding.
For Senter, the farm itself has become a community. She's worked there for about a year, and said she loves coming to work each day.
"We're a nice little team, a little family unit between field, post-harvest and store workers," she said. "It all works out nice."
In late June, Deidra Mogan of Louisville stopped into the Isabelle Farm Stand. She said she frequents the farm, mostly because it's always changing and she never knows what treasure she'll see there.
She steered her mother, Cyndie Szczepaniak of Perrysburg, Ohio, through the store, stopping to point out 100 percent beeswax candles and heads of leafy chard. It was Szczepaniak's first time seeing the farm stand on one of her visits to Colorado, and she was blown away. Szczepaniak lives on a farm in Ohio, and said it's clear the Isabelle Farm Stand reflects the Boulder County community.
"You won't find this stuff in Perrysburg," she said with a grin.
— Work is a freelance writer from Lakewood, Colo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at @nikkidoeswork.