Last year, when the Croft Family Farm debuted a stand at the Union Station Farmers' Market, the first thing customers noticed were the neat rows of root vegetables, bins of different lettuces, shelves of chives and herbs, and an overall organization to it all. The setup, in short, looked as good as the produce displayed in it.
"My dream was to own a farm and take care of the land," says Steve Cockroft, who owns Croft Family Farm in Kersey with his wife, Michelle. "It's a real family farm, and I didn't really know how much I enjoyed growing things until I did it."
Both Michelle and Steve's families have had a hand in farms for generations. But unlike his cousins and Michelle's parents, Cockroft had to work to get back to the land after his father gave it up to study music. Because of his father's path, Cockroft grew up mainly in Michigan, coming to Colorado after he met Michelle in the 1980s. The two fell in love quickly, he moved to the area shortly after, and they got married in 1988.
Once in Colorado, Cockcroft worked at building up a trucking business while he and Michelle added seven kids to their family. But he never felt his chosen career was right, and he longed to have a farm and pick up where his grandfather left off. Finally, in 2011 he bought land in Kersey and started the farm along with his children, the youngest of whom was just one year old at the time. They named it Croft Family Farm, shortening Cockroft into something easier to say and remember.
One of the main reasons that Cockroft wanted to start farming was to provide customers with whole, natural and healthy foods. The inspiration for this path was Jason, his eldest son, who has autism.
"Our journey to help our son led us here," says Cockroft, who had researched how diet and pure foods can help not just people with disabilities, but everyone else, too. "His condition led us to search out answers, and we found that food matters, and that it's so valuable in many ways."
Now the family farms twenty acres, where they grow sweet corn, lettuces, kale, celery, turnips, asparagus, onions, carrots and so much more. Daughter Alissa grows flowers for events and markets, and the family also maintains a row of greenhouses nearby, each filled with an array of heirloom tomatoes, cucumbers and beans, among other vegetables. Farther back on the farm, about 700 chickens live in a movable hen house, all egg-laying ladies that eat a soy- and gluten-free diet. All told, there's enough food produced on the farm to feed 300 to 500 households a year, Cockroft explains.
"I realized I was called to do this," says Cockroft. "After a really hard season and eighty- to ninety-hour work weeks, when at the end of it you're already talking about the next year, then you know it's right."
Unlike many in his family past and present, Cockroft doesn't believe in using pesticides, GMO seeds or anything that will dilute the nutritional value of the vegetables. He has previously gone through the headache of paperwork, invasive questioning and other steps to get the farm certified organic, but no longer does, though his farming methods haven't changed.
"My motto is real sun, real seed, real soil," says Cockroft, as he and his youngest son, Andrew, show off their farm. "I don't believe in chemicals; it's all hand-weeded, hand-cultivated, hand-picked and hand-sorted."
It's easy to see the love Cockroft puts into his produce. The way he talks about the heirloom tomatoes makes you want to take a bite of the fruit right off the vine. Much of his farming started out with trial and error, garnering information and advice from other farmers and family members, and researching best practices. He is dedicated to stick with non-GMO seeds and planting in high-quality soil to help the plants get as many nutrients as possible.
"If you value real food, you've got to get connected to a farmer," says Cockroft. "If people don't value real food, where will we be in five years?"
Home cooks and professional chefs alike rave about Croft Family Farm eggs at the farmers' market, and the tomatoes,whether smooth and round or lumpy and bumpy, are some of the best around. But in 2019 Cockroft only filled a guest slot at the downtown Denver market, unsure if he would come back the following season.
But the family returned this year, despite the pandemic and uncertainty surrounding public spaces and shopping. Even so, Cockroft says his dream is to sell his produce directly to the consumer. So the family has set up an online shop on the Croft Family Farm website, where shoppers can order those tomatoes, eggs and other foods any time they're in season.
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