Redefining local: The small Eagle farm with big dreams
C3 Premiere in Eagle offers custom flower containers and a variety of local produce
When Eagle County residents think about local produce, they often picture succulent Palisade peaches or delicious Olathe sweet corn, but those farms lie more than 100 miles away on the other side of what has now become a perpetually closing canyon.
C3 Premiere, a nursery and farm in Eagle, is partnering with other Eagle County producers to challenge this vision of what local means by providing opportunities to purchase and engage with high-quality produce without leaving the county.
“We’re as local as can be, and we’re growing more and more each year,” said Jeff Matlock, the owner of C3 Premiere. “The tomatoes we grow can make your face hurt (from smiling so much).”
Matlock began his custom flower company about 12 years ago and has been on his current site outside of Eagle, just down the road from Red Mountain Farms, for six years, he said. This is his fifth season growing food as well — a passion project for the former chef.
C3 stands for Colorado Custom Containers, the flower business that Matlock is known for, which now serves as the financial backing of his new challenge of growing every kind of fruit, vegetable and herb that excites him.
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Matlock calls his farm a “boutique” operation, capable of growing custom food for local chefs and other residents that can’t be found elsewhere in the region. They also offer vegetable starts and advice to locals looking to dive into growing their own food.
The farm is tucked away off U.S. Highway 6 about 3 miles east of Eagle, but avid bikers may have noticed an increasing number of greenhouses and equipment visible from the bike path. Matlock and Jen Pace have a booth at the Edwards Farmers Market and have a roster of loyal customers that they are always looking to grow — “pun intended,” as Matlock would say.
They are a small business and aim to stay that way, even as they expand further into the world of food production, Pace and Matlock said.
Matlock is eclectic, passionate and easily distracted — a dreamer. A mad scientist of botany, Matlock is leveled out and supported by his tenacious greenhouse manager and girlfriend, Jen Pace, who is equally as passionate about local, sustainable agriculture.
“As we grow, as a country and as a planet, we really should have a concern with sustainability in our food production — where our food is coming from and the quality of that food, because we are running out,” Matlock said.
Matlock and Pace use the land efficiently, producing nutritious food that is resilient to the afternoon monsoon rains, intense sunlight and temperature swings that come with farming at altitude.
They grow all kinds of food including various squash, eggplant, four different types of exceptionally fragrant basil and beautiful heirloom tomatoes that they cultivated after experimenting with 80 different varieties.
New this year are their chocolate cherry tomatoes; plump, wine-colored orbs that burst with the rich sweetness that earned them their name.
C3 Premiere is dedicated to sustainability and environmental stewardship throughout their operations, Matlock said. They operate entirely without electricity, relying on gravity to pull water from the river to water their crops.
The property is an endearing jumble of recycled items and materials. They are adamant about utilizing everything and wasting nothing, even going so far as to reuse soil left behind by another business, Matlock recalled.
A large part of the dedication to helping strengthen the local food system is so that communities can begin to shorten the carbon footprint associated with where their food comes from, he said.
“Shortening the carbon footprint is huge,” Matlock said. “So, we’re using less fossil fuels to bring things to market … and also being stewards of the land. We want to keep the value of the soil. We don’t have erosion issues over here, but we want to keep the value of the soil up.”
The farm does not use any chemicals or petroleum-based fertilizers, opting for all-natural chicken excrement fertilizer and vinegar-based pesticides. They work hard to maintain the integrity and health of the soil on their property, protecting the environment for the years to come, Matlock said.
A project with potential to reshape local produce
Matlock has been lending his skill and expertise to a large Red Mountain Ranch development project, which remains in the very early stages but has the potential to reshape the way residents connect to their local food system.
The Red Mountain Ranch development concept would integrate a “demonstration farm, edible gardens and sustainable food education into a mixed-use commercial project” on a 106-acre plot of land currently owned by Merv Lapin, according to Matlock and a statement from Eric Eves, operations manager of Red Mountain Land.
“We see an opportunity to bring the river front and center in this mixed-use project and create a vibrant community amenity focused on local food production for visitors to see, for them to learn about, and for them to taste and buy to take home,” Eves said in the statement.
Of the nine parcels the land is divided into, four will be designated for residential use, two for commercial use and two others will be maintained as open space and dedicated back to the town of Eagle, according to an annexation report dated Aug. 17, 2020.
Eves said they hope to use about 5.5 acres of the commercial land for Red Mountain Farm — the demonstration farm — and an accompanying farm-to-table restaurant.
Of the final parcel, about 1.4 acres of land is to be donated to a local nonprofit, likely Walking Mountains Science Center, for the construction of a downvalley “environmental education center,” with the hope of building an edible garden where locals can explore native berries and other edible plants, according to the report, Matlock and the statement from Eves.
The purpose of the project is to create a campus where locals can come learn about, purchase and delight in the local food that the Eagle River Valley has to offer, Eves said. Matlock will offer his expertise in the farming and food world, helping to power the demonstration farm.
“We see a great synergy to having Jeff and his team operating here on Red Mountain Ranch,” Eves said. “This (is) a historic Eagle County Ranch and to have onsite food production with the ability to manage the demonstration farm and hopefully supply a large portion of the food for a future farm-to-fork restaurant located on the Eagle River will be a regional draw in a unique setting.”
A plot of land near the ranch has been set aside for the construction of a high school once Eagle outgrows Eagle Valley High School, Matlock said. The demonstration farm and Walking Mountains Science Center’s facility and edible garden could serve as a resource for students to learn more about where their food comes from, he said.
The project, and the natural partnership that has formed between C3 Premiere and Red Mountain Ranch, represents community agriculture as it should be, Pace said. It presents a vision for a future in which land is utilized efficiently and sustainably to provide communities with tasty, nutritious and accessible food, and in which residents feel empowered to grow their own food.
There is often a misconception that this kind of strong local food system cannot exist in Eagle County.
“People see the land for development purposes as a higher value than for crop,” Matlock said. “Farmers don’t make a lot of money. It’s sunrise to sunset.”
But local, small-scale producers abound, simply awaiting deeper support from the community, from Buttercrunch Farm in Eagle to Two Roots Farm in Basalt and Copper Bar Ranch in Edwards, Pace said.
“Healthy, real food is what I grew up on and has been a way of life,” Pace said in a written statement. “Good, real food makes you feel good.”
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