Tomato season has finally launched at a farmers' market near you, and it's been a long time coming. At least it has for the owners of Aspen Moon Farm in Longmont, who began growing heirloom tomato plants back in April. (What you've probably seen so far are early-season hybrids, hothouse tomatoes and out-of-state fruit.)
"Tomatoes take a long time and are prone to a lot of problems," says Erin Dreistadt, who owns the biodynamic and organic farm with her husband, Jason Griffith. "They take a lot of tender love and care."
Aspen Moon Farm grows around thirty types of tomatoes, including cherry, heirloom and paste varieties — also known as cooking tomatoes — such as Roma and San Marzano. The plants are grown from the farm's own seeds, which are sprouted in small starts before either being planted in soil or sold to would-be gardeners in late spring.
"It's almost as satisfying to sell the plants as it is to grow the tomatoes," says Dreistadt, adding that she's proud of the plants and loves hearing from her buyers about how they fare outside the farm.
But at Aspen Moon Farm, she can watch her own tomatoes grow, both in the field and in the hoop house. It's in the hoop house (which looks like a greenhouse but doesn't utilize any extra heat and instead acts more like a shield against the elements) where the heirloom tomatoes are grown, a list that includes Purple Cherokee, Brandywine, Pineapple, Black Krim and Valencia. Outside in the biodynamic field are heartier varieties such as sweet cherry tomatoes, Pink Berkeley Tie Dye and Green Zebra, to name a few.
Dreistadt and Griffith came to Colorado in 1996, each from a different Midwestern origin. They moved to Longmont in 2006, and in 2009 started Aspen Moon Farm, where they live with their three daughters (ages 9, 14 and 17) and various dogs, sheep, bees and chickens. Before making the jump to full-fledged farmer, Griffith ran a landscaping business and Dreistadt oversaw what she describes as a huge, overgrown garden at home.
"We basically combined the two," she says. "Over the years we have been able to refine the process of growing, and with the tomatoes, that meant a lot of trellising and pruning to get the big juicy heirlooms everyone loves."
The farm also grows other produce, both on the plot we visited and another located nearby in Niwot. All season long, chard, eggplant, corn, fennel, beets, butter lettuce, basil and cucumbers come from the fertile Boulder County land. Patches of flowering dill help attract pollinators to the area and add a splash of color to the rows of dark green leaves. The reliance on bee hives, cows, chickens and sheep to maintain an interdependent cycle of fertilization, growth and pollination is something that helps give the land its biodynamic certification.
Dreistadt and Griffith sell much of their produce and honey at the Longmont (Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) and the two Boulder (Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.; Wednesdays from 4 to 8 p.m.) farmers' markets, but they also run a roadside stand near the Longmont farm (open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.) and sell the produce through a CSA (Community Shared Agriculture) program.
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Aspen Moon Farm also grows wheat, a crop that was unfortunately destroyed by June hailstorms that devastated many crops in the area. But tomato lovers can rejoice: The plants are doing great, and Dreistadt projects that they will harvest about 5,000 pounds from the hoop house and even more from the field. The couple was just beginning to pick the early tomatoes in late July, and you can expect more to keep coming through mid-September.
The Aspen Moon Farm produce stand is located at 7927 Hygiene Road in Longmont. Visit the farm's website for details and CSA membership information.