Family focus grows farming tradition

The Gardemeyers offer organic goods, smiles at farmers’ market
By: Gloria Young, Home & Garden
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They just purchased their two-acre farm a year ago, but already the Gardemeyers are a familiar sight at farmers’ markets in Auburn, Colfax and the DeWitt Center. Colfax Hill Family Farm is truly a family venture. J.D. Gardemeyer takes the lead. His wife, Jenny, a ranger in the Auburn State Recreation Area, lends a hand when not at work. Daughters Autumn, 12, and Savanna, 9, pitch in wherever they’re needed. It has been a learn-on-the-job experience. “We kind of dove in, head first,” Jenny said. J.D. comes from a carpentry background. “I worked in the family business, which got me prepared for the hard work involved in farming. It’s something I’ve really found a lot of joy doing,” he said about working the land. “You have to have fun doing it because it is extremely hard work and you wouldn’t be able to keep at it very long.” On a recent Wednesday, the Gardemeyers’ booth at the DeWitt Center Foothill Farmers’ Market had plenty of freshly picked zucchini, tomatoes, soybeans, green beans and eggplant, plus basil and herbs and plant starts. They specialize in heirloom varieties. But their main focus is salad greens — something they can produce and sell pretty much year round. “We have different varieties including the sweeter and spicier mixtures,” J.D. said. Their produce is a welcome addition to the markets, Foothill Farmers Market manager Carol Arnold said. “We are so happy to have added Colfax Hill Family Farm as a new certified grower/member of the Foothill Farmers Market Association this year,” Arnold said in an e-mail. “J.D., Jenny and their children are enthusiastic about farming, and bring their enthusiasm to every market. Their whole family is very friendly and helpful to both customers and vendors alike. … The Gardemeyer family is bringing something else to the market — hope for the future of farming in Placer County. They’re young, creative and hard-working. We look forward to having Colfax Hill Family Farm as an integral part of our farmers’ markets for a very long time.” The Gardemeyers also sell their produce to area restaurants. They supply salad greens to Latitudes in Old Town Auburn and have plans to add Carpe Vino, also in Old Town, as a customer, as well as Evangeline’s restaurant in Colfax. So far, they’re tilling a quarter of an acre and plan to add more next year, J.D. said. On a separate, leased piece of land they’re growing pumpkins and winter squash, which Jenny estimates will be ready for harvest in late September. They’re using double-dug raised beds rather than rows, which increases the yield, Jenny explained. And it’s a good thing, too. “Our demand is exceeding supply,” she said. Next on the agenda is bringing into egg production their flock of 180 free-range chickens. Autumn particularly enjoys working with the chickens, although she also helps with planting and harvesting. “She’s been involved in every aspect,” Jenny said. “I’ve been learning a lot over the summer,” Autumn added. Savanna has been a big help, too, often taking care of her brother, Graham, 18 months old, while the others work in the garden. On summer market days, she assists in the family booth. “I like seeing what gets sold the most,” she said. Autumn would like to add fresh flowers to the sales mix next year. In preparation, she has visited several flower growers to see how it’s done. She already put a few bouquets together this year. “You can be really creative and you sell them really fast,” she said. She adds her own personal touch, mixing herbs such as thyme and lavender into the bouquets. “It gives them a nice smell,” she said. She’s even used artichoke flowers, she said. The whole family appreciates the farmers’ market ambiance. “We’re new and developing a clientele and rapport with our customers,” J.D. said. “One of the most rewarding parts of it is talking to the community and developing relationships with our neighbors.” When the farm work is done, the Gardemeyers often turn to music to relax. J.D., who plays banjo, guitar, mandolin, bass and pedal steel guitar, has a band called the Post Pine Ramblers. The group varies from three to five members, including a fiddler. Jenny provides the vocals. The band specializes in old-time music. “Most are traditional songs,” J.D. said. “It’s kind of reminiscent of a lot of stuff heard in the backwoods of North Carolina. Many of the songs are nearly 200 years old and were brought over by the immigrants. It’s simple and honest music. It’s front porch music. My whole family kind of takes part in it.” The band performs at farmers’ markets and restaurants, and will be playing for some PlacerGrown events this fall, he said. “Old-time music is a dying art form, just like the small farms,” J.D. said. “(Keeping them alive) makes me feel good. It is a wholesome thing to be doing. I’m providing fresh food with a low carbon footprint — things I know haven’t been treated with pesticides and herbicides. Just like when we record music. It’s all in one take — no effects pedals, no amplifiers. What you see is what you get. It’s an older way of doing things. And I think it is a better way of doing things.” Gloria Young can be reached at ---------- Colfax Hill Family Farm Phone: (530) 346-7684