The hens are on hiatus.
Normally, the coop situated between the storefront and fields on the Diaz Farm in north Boulder would be populated with poultry scratching and pecking at the dirt. But this year, the henhouse is empty and the fields are overrun with weeds. Pepe and Veronica Diaz have decided to take a year off from working their 1.5-acre urban farm and instead focus on running their popular food truck, Tierra y Fuego Taqueria, while preparing to open their first brick-and-mortar restaurant. By this time next year, though, Pepe expects to have all three running full steam ahead, with the farm providing all the produce for the truck and eatery during the growing season.
It will be a far cry from his life just seven years ago. Back then, Pepe was living in Southern California and working as a mechanical engineer, which entailed a brutal commute and hours of sitting in a cubicle each day. The lifestyle was so stultifying that one day he and Veronica packed three teenage children and whatever possessions they could fit into a minivan. "There was no plan," Pepe says, laughing — just a desire to drastically change their way of life and create a healthier environment for the family.
The Diaz Farm started off small that first year, with just twenty customers buying tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, and greens, homemade sourdough bread and farm-fresh eggs. While more families signed up the next year, and the year after that, Pepe and Veronica were always looking for ways to increase their income, since it's very difficult to turn a profit solely from growing food. Since they'd moved to Boulder, they had scoured the area for the Mexican food they were used to eating, and while they found a few places they enjoyed outside of town, they weren't impressed with Boulder's offerings. So they decided to launch their own food truck, with Pepe manning the grill and smoker and Veronica making handmade tortillas and salsas.
Last season, the farm produced enough veggies to provide all of the produce for the truck — no mean feat, as Pepe estimates that they sell about 600 tacos per day (smoked brisket is the bestseller) in addition to burritos and gorditas. Pepe sources the ingredients that Veronica uses to make their tortillas locally; rather than rely on Maseca, the powdered masa used by nearly all of Colorado restaurants and tortillerias, he picks up 200 pounds of fresh nixtamal masa each Friday from Longmont's Las Americas Tortilleria. The resulting hand-pressed tortillas are slightly thicker than average, and their texture and flavor are superior to what you'll get at the vast majority of Denver and Boulder taquerias.
But they know that not everything always goes according to plan. Last year, for example, mountain snowpack was lower than average, and the irrigation ditch that runs along the south side of the farm was bone-dry by the first week in August; the family had to halt the CSA program earlier than anticipated. "Luckily, our customers were very understanding," says Pepe. He credits the community for consistently supporting the farm, even when he decided to take a break from growing food this season — a very difficult decision, he admits, as he sometimes feels he's letting the community down.
And with all the anti-Mexican rhetoric around the country after the 2016 presidential election, Pepe wondered if he should have changed the name of the farm to something "more American, like Butterfly Farm," he recalls, then adds, "You know how sometimes you just hear a voice in your head?" He gestures not at his head but at his heart: "And it said, 'Just show them who we are.'"
And the hens will definitely return.
The Diaz Farm and Tierra y Fuego Taqueria are located at 2818 Jay Road in Boulder and are open from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday through Sunday.