Farm to Fork in the Uncompahgre Valley: Freshie Farms
Nestled in the mountains east of Montrose is Western Heritage Farms, a pioneer ranch continuously operated for over 100 years by five generations of the Hale family. However, since 2021 there has been new life on the ranch in the form of Freshies Farms. Freshies Farms is a collaborative effort between two families, with Karson and Samantha Wynne taking on their first independent produce operation utilizing the land and with the support of seasoned rancher Steve Hale and his son Robert. Using the principles of regenerative, sustainable agriculture, the two families deliver organic, nutrient-dense produce, grass-fed beef, eggs, chickens, and flowers to the local community. There is a tremendous amount of passion behind Freshies Farms, and the Wynnes and Hales find great joy not only in what they grow on the farm, but in the opportunity to give back to their community.
Samantha and Karson Wynne moved to Montrose in 2017 with their children. Not long after, they met and became friends with Steve Hale, becoming part of the devoted following of his grass-fed beef. When Steve's wife, Tammy, sadly passed away in March of 2021, the Wynnes temporarily moved onto the ranch to help out. They soon came to realize how well they complemented each other: the Wynnes had goals, ideas, and manpower; Hale had land, knowledge, and most importantly, a willingness to share both. A partnership blossomed, and the Wynnes now live full-time on Western Heritage Ranch operating Freshies Farm and working the ranch to help the Hales. The Hales and the Wynnes have become close, referring to each other as their “farm family,” and their deep respect, trust, and appreciation for one another is evident. A constant exchange of knowledge and support flows between the two families, and everyone agrees that they are much better together.
Robert has a chicken operation and helps his father manage their growing herd of cattle. The Wynnes focus more on produce - primarily tomatoes and peppers - and flowers, with full market garden offerings as well as some new projects in the works. The families have a shared priority: soil health. The manure from the livestock is used to build the quality of the soil, and the chemicals prevalent in agriculture are avoided by using natural alternatives. “We were doing regenerative ag before it was cool,” Steve Hale says. In the past these practices may have been more out of necessity, but there is a feeling of fulfillment and pride from both families that they are carrying on the traditional farming method.
The Hales and Wynnes feel a sense of responsibility to the land and to the people, but this responsibility is not a burden to them – it is something they value as a motivating force to do right by generations past and future. They view the knowledge they have learned as a gift, and something they have “an innate responsibility to share,” Samantha Wynne says. This aspect of education is a big part of Freshies Farms: they offer free workshops throughout the year for the community, and they are continually furthering their own knowledge by attending seminars and classes. Their motto attests t: “Root for each other, and we all grow.” Practicing what they preach, Freshies Farms has donated over 12,000 pounds of food since its inception. While farming is how they make a living, their primary passion is their community, and their work is incredibly rewarding to them.
Looking back, they find it hard to believe what they have accomplished in such a short time, but Robert goes back to it being a collaborative effort. Samantha agrees. “We would never be able to do this on our own.” It's this spirit of cooperation and collaboration that begins to define the shared goal of the two families. If their goal of extrapolating out the dynamic of the ranch to the larger community of Montrose and the Western Slope is accomplished, Montrose could become a food hub of the Western Slope. They spoke of Montrose's potential for food sovereignty and self-sufficiency, which would provide a different, important type of food security for the local population far beyond being able to afford shopping at grocery stores. The Montrose Farmers' Market plays a pivotal role in this goal. They view the market not only as a way to sell what they produce on the farm, but to further people's appreciation of the market's value as the heart of the community.
Ultimately, Freshies Farms seeks to provide high-quality, nutrient-dense food to our local community, and the farm and its partnership with Western Heritage Farms is at the heart of how they are doing that. The desire of the Hales and the Wynnes to do right by the land and the people keeps them working towards their common goal.
Freshies Farms and Western Heritage Farms are at the Montrose Farmers’ Market every Saturday. You can also find more information about both on Facebook.
Written by Lauren Walch
Originally from Vermont, Lauren moved to Colorado seven years ago and is now proud to call the Western Slope home. When she's not working, you can find her on a hike, doing a crossword puzzle with a cat on her lap, or with friends at a local brewery or winery.