Local farmers provide for students and the Fort Collins community

Ashley Haberman

Native Hill Farm makes cooking holiday meals with local seasonal produce possible all year ’round.

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Katie Slota and Nick Koontz pose at a farmers’ market. (Photo courtesy of Claire Burnett.)

Owned and operated by Katie Slota and Nick Koontz, the farm has grown into a big part of the Fort Collins community over its seven years of operation through Community Supported Agriculture, working memberships, farmer’s markets and produce sales to local establishments like The Kitchen and the Fort Collins Food Co-op.

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The duo is currently working on Poudre Valley Community Farms, the first land co-op in the United States. Slota said it is a co-operative that buys land with capital from member-owners and leases it back to farmers.

“Nick and I met at a town hall meeting on food,” Slota said. “I was interested in the distribution and farming for my community and he was interested in growing food.”

Koontz had secured a little piece of land and at the town hall meeting asked if anyone was interested in helping him.

“I said, clearly, I’m here to be involved,” Slota said. “So, we just joined forces.”

The farm sits on over five acres on the corner of Taft Hill Road and Highway 285. In the growing season, volunteers can be seen hard at work in fields of vegetables.

But, it is not only an abundance of produce that Slota and Koontz bring to the community.

Jeremy Christensen and Kalyn Taylor both interned at Native Hill Farm prior to beginning their current school careers in soil sciences and agriculture at Colorado State University.

“It’s through Nick and Katie that I got into grad school,” Christensen said. “I was the farm’s first intern and lived on the farm for a year while working for them. Just by volunteering at the farm, it led to all my great opportunities.”

Taylor said she had a similar experience while interning at the farm.

“I kept searching for reasons to go back to school,” Taylor said. “We were sitting in the field one day and Katie said I should just go to school for this since I’m so interested in it. They are literally the reason I went back to school.”

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With a lot of hard work, trial and error and support from the community, Native Hill Farm is now one of the biggest local organic farms in the area. Their positive impact on the community has grown into their hard work for the future of local organic farming.

“The land co-operative came about after many years of trying to find a long term home for the farm,” Slota said. “We needed to have long-term access to some land so that we could invest in the soil, buildings, pollinator habitat, etcetera, that is crucial for a healthy organic farm eco-system and long-term economic stability.”

For young farmers, purchasing land at a reasonable price has become almost impossible, Koontz said.

“Land and water suitable for farming in Larimer County has been selling for ‘non agricultural’ prices, i.e. development and mining prices, so it seemed impossible to afford to purchase land on a farmers salary,” Koontz said.

“Native Hill will be the cooperative’s first tenant on the cooperative’s first purchase,” Slota said.

The goal of the cooperative, according to the duo, is to be a tool for farmers that allows for the potential to gain long term access to farmland in areas that are loosing agricultural land.

“Nick and Katie are such a good example for living for what your passion is about and not just believing in something, but actually going out and doing it,” Christensen said.

Poudre Valley Community Farms is a pioneer for the future of sustainable farming and may also present strong image for community-based living. The faces behind it all, Slota and Koontz’s visions have positively affected the lives of many in the Fort Collins community.

“It’s really powerful,” Taylor said. “Another reason why Nick and Katie are such powerful figures, not just for CSU students but for everyone, is because they embody what community means.”

The hard work and long hours that go into keeping a small-scale farm afloat are proving to be well worth it as Slota and Koontz continue to pave the way for a future of local organic farming.

“We believe that the health of our community is directly tied to the food that we all eat and the environment that it is grown in,” said Slota.“Eating fresh and local produce is not only good for your health, but it improves your quality of life. Farming helps us feel like we are helping shape the community that we want to live and work in.”

Native Hill Farm has a booth at the downtown summer and winter farmers’ markets. They also provide the opportunity for CSA and working memberships and can be reached at online.

Collegian Reporter Ashley Haberman can be reached at news@collegian.com.