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Micro farm seeks home in CB South

A bit “outside the box” of local regulations

By Alissa Johnson

If all goes as planned, Tassinong Farms hopes to provide the Upper Gunnison Valley with fresh greens grown right in Crested Butte South. Utilizing “upcycled” shipping containers fitted with hydroponic growing equipment, farm manager Kate Haverkampf hopes to supply restaurants and local families with a variety of lettuces, hearty greens, and herbs. The idea is now in the public review stage.

Haverkampf’s husband, Andrew, learned about freight farms as a result of his work as a freight broker. One of his company’s customers manufactured micro farms, repurposing 40-foot ocean containers with hydroponic grow systems that utilize LED lights and circulated water to grow greens in hydroponic netting. Once he saw a farm in operation in Boston, Andrew immediately saw a fit for Crested Butte, where the growing season is so limited.

“[In the container,] it’s light 18 hours a day. There’s never a cloudy day, it’s never cold, it never rains. The conditions are perfect on the inside, and in terms of the nutrients mixed into the water… it’s all computer operated, so it’s optimally measuring the nutrient mix all the time,” Andrew said. He pitched the idea to Kate, who’d been looking for a way to start a new career in Crested Butte.

“Our family has been here since 2007, working virtually,” Kate explained. “My vision was to do something that would let me be here and make a living.” The idea of doing that and bringing fresh, healthy food to the community seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Once planted, the containers produce greens in a matter of weeks and can be planted and harvested on a rotational basis so produce is available weekly. According to Kate, “They can yield 500 heads of lettuce a week, 1,000 heads of mini lettuce, up to 65 pounds of hearty greens a week or 45 pounds of herbs.”

To bring their vision to life, the Haverkampfs purchased a commercial lot on the perimeter of the commercial district in Crested Butte South, where previous development plans were never completed. They cleaned up the debris and brush on the lot, and created a new plan that included the micro farm and a mixed-use commercial building on an existing, unused foundation. The latter, to be completed as Phase II of their project, will house Andrew’s business (ultimately employing up to 10 people) and three one-bedroom apartments.

Kate’s vision for Tassinong Farms is to meet with local restaurants, get an idea of the types of greens they need, and plant accordingly in two freight farm containers. She also plans to offer weekly farm shares to local families, and as the vision for the project has grown with community input, she has added a farm stand and a garden space where the community can gather.

While the Haverkampfs have received a lot of support for their idea, it has also been a challenge for some community members to envision what it will look like.

The idea of shipping containers, Kate says, makes some people nervous. That’s why the Haverkampfs decided to start with two containers instead of four, added roofs and siding to the containers, and added elements, like the outdoor gathering space. They want it to fit into the community and be welcomed, whether residents live across the street or can see it from their property on the hill above the commercial district.

The concept has also pushed the boundaries of local regulations, which were not necessarily designed with micro farms in mind. According to Dom Eymere, manager of the Crested Butte South Property Owners Association, two aspects of the proposal have required some extra attention: whether the proposed activities are allowable under the commercial district master plan and the architectural appearance of the freight farms. The fact that the lot is on the perimeter of the commercial district makes it more flexible in terms of use, but he says there are stipulations regarding things like warehousing, manufacturing and agricultural uses that need to be considered.

Preliminary conversations have taken place during work sessions and have been fruitful. Eymere noted, “Kate and Andrew have done a really good job of accommodating and modifying their proposal throughout the process and of listening to the board.”

This Thursday, the conversation will continue when the Crested Butte South Design Review Committee formally reviews the architectural plans. Next month, the Board of Directors will review land use questions. Eymere said he recently learned that some conversations might need to take place at the county level as well. Yet he also expressed optimism about the project.

“We’re excited to look at it. It’s an alternative business, and we want to think somewhat progressively in that area because it has community benefits. It’s thinking green, it’s something that we should look further at and see if it’s appropriate,” Eymere said.

The Haverkampfs are, however, hoping for speedy approvals—Kate said that community input and suggestions from the Crested Butte South Property Owners Association have helped improve the vision for the project. Yet two shipping containers are ordered and ready to arrive in a matter of weeks, and when they arrive, Kate can start growing produce as soon as she’s allowed to plug them in.

Kate hopes the community will believe in the project and trust Tassinong Farms to deliver on its promises. “What we say we are going to do, we are going to do,” she said. The Design Review Committee will discuss the Tassinong Farms proposal this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Sunset Hall.

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