September 13, 2016
Sometimes, or a lot of times really, life takes us in the most unforeseen but beautiful directions. Meet Jen Welch of The Crowded Acre farm in Buena Vista, Colorado. She grew up in Georgia, loving animals and working in a vet clinic before finding her way to Colorado in search of her next adventure. There she worked in various roles in the food service industry and met her life partner, now husband, Brian. Around the time her first child was born Jen decided to make the leap from food service to the root of it all and started her farm, The Crowded Acre. Over the past 10 years, the family has grown to include three kids and the farm has expanded to about 120 acres of land….so they aren’t all crowded into one acre anymore. The farm is a small, diversified farm and the Welch’s focus most on keeping things local. The spent grain they feed the pigs and the chickens come from The Deerhammer Distilling Company in town. The cattle graze on just over 100 acres of pasture. They also feed whey from the nearby Jumpin’ Good Goat Dairy and fill in the gaps with locally grown barley, alfalfa, and corn.
As our crew drove down the absolutely gorgeous mountain road, above a river and through a tunnel cut in the mountain we pulled into The Crowded Acre and were greeted by Jen, her husband, the kids, a few dogs, and the smell of breakfast cooking on the stove. Their farm is set on 15 acres of Juniper woodland and holds a diverse array of livestock from turkeys, ducks and chickens, to goats and pigs. I followed Jen and her family as they set out for the morning chores. First up was into the chicken house where the kids set about their job of collecting eggs. We won’t talk about my silly fear of birds (yes, chickens included) and the one that flew right at me!!!
From there Jen fed buckets of the spent grain to the pigs, checked on the piglets, fed the goats and stopped to give a good scratch to the belly of a sow. The kids worked right along with Jen and Brian - each one with their favorite chores. Mya is in charge of the chickens and will be working with a helper this summer to regularly care for the flock. Waldon love the cats, especially the kittens, and Wyatt knows all of the hiding places where the chickens lay their eggs. Hearing them talk about their mom and their farm was one of the most heartwarming experiences of the day - the Walsh’s are giving their kids a life that most kids could only dream of!
We then set off in the truck for the second part of our visit to see how they use the commodities they raise on their farm. To start, Jen’s philosophy is, in order to succeed as a small farm, you either have to produce and market a truly unique product OR, produce and market a common product in a unique way. So, in their own unique way, they bought and renovated a 1984 Bluebird school bus into a traveling turquoise restaurant called The Bearded Lady.
The bus just so happens to be parked in an empty space next door to The Deerhammer Distilling Company, making single malt whiskey and other spirits in downtown Buena Vista. We received a tour of the distillery and got to see how owners Lenny and Amy Eckstein end up with the spent grain that is fed to the animals at The Crowded Acre. So, we were able to see from start to finish, how the grain is used to create whiskey, the by-product is used to feed the animals, and then finally, how the animals were used to create the food for The Bearded Lady - a true farm-to-fork experience!
As the day wrapped to a close, I was lucky enough to join Jen and a close group of her friends as they shared the first meal at The Bearded Lady. The men and women around the table are her people - the ones who have supported and helped her on the path of farming, building a business and creating a life she loves for her family. As she shared her delicious (but secret) family recipe pork straight from her pigs, amazing bread made with the eggs her kids helped collect and delicious potatoes grown by a friend, it was clear that this young FarmHer is living out her dream and bringing her version of agriculture full circle - from The Crowded Acre to The Bearded Lady.
Watch video clips from Jen here.
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