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More than pot is growing in Huerfano County

Farm to table food movement thrives with the support of interns

HUERFANO — For several years now, several groups, both for profit and nonprofit, have been providing healthy, wholesome, locally grown, organic foods to area residents and restaurants. Often referred to as “farm to table,” this movement is really not all that new. It is just making a comeback. One of the first organizations to undertake this effort in the area is the Shii Koeii Community located near Gardner along the Huerfano River. In fact, Shii Koeii is the Jicarilla Apache name for the river. Husband and wife team Mark Schneider and Val Phillips just celebrated seven years this past May as founders of Shii Koeii. Val hails from Denver, which is where she met Mark as they worked with the American Friends Service Committee, Catholic Charities, and other groups as community organizers. The two had a goal to get out of the city and live on the land. They see themselves as stewards of the land living in an intentional community. With permission from the county, they ultimately foresee several families residing at Shii Koeii. But for now, the community is made up of interns (also called apprentice stewards). Their numbers vary, but Shii Koeii has had up to 25 interns at a time,with an average of around 15 to 18. These apprentice stewards come from all over the United States and around the world, all with a similar

vision as Mark and Val; to grow healthy food using sustainable practices. One intern is Beaman Martin from San Antonio, Texas, who is on his second internship at Shii Koeii. Martin is a graduate from the renowned culinary school Johnson and Wales. He sees being a chef as more than just cooking great food, he wants to learn how to live sustainably and how to grow the food he prepares. “I want to learn more about animal husbandry and how to make cheese” says Beaman. To that end, Shii Koeii provides him with eight dairy goats and dozens of laying hens. Kristen LeBlanc, arrived at Shii Koeii in January from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. “It [Shii Koii] has everything I wanted to learn abou; solar energy, animal husbandry, and organic food,” stated Kristen. She added, “I want to be a farmer. My dream is to recreate something like Shii Koeii but closer to a city.” LeBlanc and other apprentice stewards all commented on how different it is to be living so remotely with very few other people their own age and with similar interests. From “across the pond” comes Ben Mark, who calls London, England home. Mark said, “I went from a city of over one million people to Gardner, which has around 500!” He arrived in April and says the learning curve is hard but he is starting to get it. “I love the animals,” he says as he picks up a newborn kid goat. At 19, Mark notes that he and his friends in England share similar goals as the other interns at Shii Koeii saying, “My friends and I want to live close to the land, grow organic food, create art (he is an English and drama major in Sussex), build solar structures, and learn how to cook. My dream is to write a book about this experience.” Sitting on 75 acres in the beautiful Huerfano River Valley, Shii Koeii and its stewards make tasty goat cheese, gather fresh eggs, and harvest organic vegetables (they have 26 varieties of heirloom tomatoes), which they eat and sell at various local farmer’s markets. They all are tanned, healthy, and happy. Val summed it up with these words from her grandmother, “It is good luck to step in goat poop!” At Shii Koeii, good luck is everywhere. Editor’s note: This is part one in a series on Huerfano County’s various farm to table programs, focusing on the interns, who are visiting our area and learning new life skills.