Eating / Food and Cooking

2010 FOOD TRENDS: Farm-to-firm brings produce into the office

Originally published in Edible Front Range

To get to Oxford Gardens, just turn off of Oxford Road when you run out of pavement, says Jared Hapgood. There you’ll find Hapgood, the farm’s manager. On a recent day he was seated near a handmade root crop washer trying to create a tool to make planting the experimental sweet potatoes a little easier. Tomato plants warm up in the hothouse nearby.

Birds chase hawks over the cottonwood-shaded ditches that outline the acres where everything from arugula, chard and turnips to mizuna and basil—more than 30 crops through the season—are growing. In addition to the sweet potatoes, there are even a few experimental rows of quinoa as well as hops for local brewers.

Hapgood, 27, has worked with Oxford’s founder Peter Volz at the three-acre farm for three years, almost since its inception. He grew up in Memphis and then traveled the world before landing in Boulder.

“I come from a generation of people that do not know where their food comes from,” he said. “They don’t necessarily know that French fries come from potatoes. Seriously. I wanted to learn how to grow food so I came out here and volunteered.”

Farming, Hapgood said with a wry smile and the wave of a dirt caked hand, is not something you do to make a lot of money. Oxford Gardens keeps growing because of a tiny staff and a large corps of volunteers who help with planting, weeding and harvesting. “We have one volunteer, Richard, who’s 77 and rides his bike out here. We’ve got college kids—one is a student from Israel. People want to learn. We try to make it a good time and feed everybody. It is beautiful here, but the work is really demanding and hot. Not everybody can take it,” he said.

Most of the produce is sold through a stand at the Boulder County Farmers’ Market, through the farm’s CSA and also to local bistros including Laudisio, Boulder Cork and Terroir. “We also barter with some people—one trades us cases of wine; another is a massage therapist,” he said.

About six minutes from the farm but occupying a separate reality is the Gunbarrel headquarters of Crispin Porter and Bogusky. The worldwide advertising and design agency has done award-winning work for clients such as Burger King, Domino’s Pizza, Coke Zero, Microsoft Windows, Old Navy and Best Buy.

Yet inside the expansive beige edifice that opened in 2006 is a work environment most Americans wouldn’t recognize because it’s so, uh, nice despite the long hours. How many firms have a quality of life manager? Meet Amy Neuser, who for three years has been in charge of making things easy, entertaining and useful for the 500 folks working at CPB. “We brought in the cupcake lady, but also a ‘green’ garage truck onsite that does oil changes and tune-ups while you’re at work,” Neuser said.

“We’ll bring in bands—we had songwriter Shawn Colvin stop in—or an author for a reading. We’ve done summer parties and kickball tournaments.”

And then there’s the company concierge who will get your clothes to the cleaners and the famous biodiesel bus bearing the moniker “Disruptive Thinker Transport” that drives employees all over town.

But, she said, some of the best ideas come from employees.

And about a year ago CPB’s Aaron McGuire was talking with his friend, Jared Hapgood.

“We were brainstorming about how to market Oxford Gardens,” Hapgood said.

“We thought that CPB, which is so close to the farm, made sense as a place to offer our produce. There are a lot of educated folks from big towns working there who’ve moved here and don’t have connections to the land.”

The small-scale farmers’ market in the lobby was launched on a handshake agreement Hapgood said. “It was very busy the first time, mostly because of the novelty.We kept coming back but it was slow. I’d go around and leave a fresh carrot on every desk and talk to them. It took time because a lot of people didn’t really know what to do with the produce.” He has added locally made soap and Western Slope fruit.

Neuser started buying from the stand because she felt comfortable asking questions. “Every week there’s a unique assortment of vegetables. I like it because they have recipes too, and explain what to do with all that arugula,” she said.

Steve Sapka, the firm’s director of agency communications, has also become a regular customer. “I tried a few new things but I don’t get too fancy or gourmet. I got some beets that were great. I just boiled them. I get the arugula and I cook yellow summer squash with garlic and oil,” he said.

“They also have this great honey from Niwot. I wouldn’t know where to find it otherwise.”

Hapgood hopes that this onsite farmers’ market idea spreads to other office buildings and working places. “Good fresh food is not just for the elites. It’s for everyone,” he said. Down the line Hapgood wants to develop a curriculum around farming that can be taught to school kids with just one proviso: “No preaching. No catch phrases like ‘natural,’ ‘organic’ or ‘green.’

Just ‘This is a tomato.’“

Despite his desire to get the word out about real, local food, Oxford Gardens is not about to grow too fast. “We have kept ourselves small and manageable.We’d rather figure out how to work these acres perfectly than expand.”

For more information on Oxford Gardens, visit oxfordgardensboulder. com. In collaboration with other local growers and Meadow Lark, Oxford Gardens will offer 6 dinners at the farm this summer. For details, visit .

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