Joe Pettenger and Taylor Drew run three plots of land under the name Forever West Farms while also keeping their restaurant, LoHi SteakBar, afloat at 3200 Tejon Street. But only a portion of what the restaurant owners grow ends up on their customers' plates.
"We are not a farm-to-table restaurant," says Drew, who is also the eatery's executive chef. "We just want to be a community restaurant with good food."
Instead, Forever West Farms boxes up squash, potatoes, tomatoes and eggs (among other items) for its community supported agriculture (CSA) program. Drew and Pettenger have signed up 75 members this year, and both men can be found peddling the remainder of the crop at the Arvada Farmers' Market every Sunday morning. "Eventually we want to get into a whole-diet CSA, including milk, eggs, produce and meat," the chef explains.
Drew received his farming education through the Veterans to Farmers program at the Denver Botanic Gardens' Chatfield Farms in Littleton, where he learned about working the land and growing food, including how to plant, sow and harvest, as well as how to deal with Colorado's unpredictable weather conditions. Not only did the teaching help him understand food and farming better, but it instilled a drive in him to start a farm of his own.
"We appreciate what farming does, and the lifestyle it brought and the community aspect," says Drew. "And in the end, I get to eat the most amazing food — and cook it."
Drew and Pettenger, who manages LoHi SteakBar, launched Forever West Farms three years ago. They currently work three acres at Chatfield Farms, where much of the heirloom wheat grows. And harvest time is now, so in early August, Drew was out in the wheat field inspecting the crop with his dog Sadie at his side.
The first year, Forever West started with an acre of heritage grains, which grew well but presented challenges once harvest time came. Pettenger and Drew didn't have the equipment to efficiently harvest their wheat and ended up hand-reaping with bread knives. They ended up with twenty pounds of grain, but now, with more land and better tools, the harvest is closer to 1,000 pounds.
Forever West leases a second plot at the Historic Bromley Farm (a teaching farm and event center in Brighton), but Drew says he's winding down operations there to ramp up production at the newest plot, in Arvada, where they're tending a hoop house filled with lines of climbing tomatoes and watching over open-air rows of ancient grains, potatoes, five kinds of beans, chard, and sunflowers left over from the previous tenant. The rows are informal and the crops grow without much intervention, fending for themselves in a diverse ecosystem without pesticides, aggressive weeding or anything unnatural. It's organic in all respects save for certification.
There's also a chicken run with laying hens and an area housing young chickens being raised for meat. Forever West processes about 300 chickens a year, and it's all done on the property, thanks to the Colorado Cottage Food Act. Most of the chicken is sold at the farmers' market, since the restaurant can't serve meat that's not inspected and stamped by the USDA. They hope to add more acreage in the future to house cattle, sheep and pigs.
"With all of us having children, it's even more important to know where our food comes from," Pettenger points out.
Drew sometimes brings his five-year-old son, Henry, to help on the farms. The setting sun often finds the pair out in the fields weeding, tidying and completing chores needed to close up the farm for the day. "It's hard as hell, but there are some great parts to it," the chef/farmer notes.
Now Forever West Farms has brought Denver Botanic Gardens alumnus Phil Cordelli on board as a partner to help expand operations. His specialty is vegetables, which allows the other members of the team to concentrate on the grains and livestock. With more than fifteen years of professional experience, Cordelli is a great addition to the farm and the team's goal of expanding, Drew says.
As the farms get bigger each year, Drew and Pettenger plan to sell more CSA memberships and offer more whole foods directly to customers who don't want to invest in the CSA. And guests at LoHi SteakBar will continue to get a taste of farm-fresh produce, especially in nightly specials that Drew creates to take advantage of the evolving seasons.
LoHi SteakBar is currently open from 4 to 10 p.m. daily; call or visit lohisteakbar.com for more information and reservations. Visit the Forever West farm stand at the Arvada Farmers' Market from 9 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. every Sunday through September 27.
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