On a quiet Saturday afternoon in a secluded pocket of open land in Picture Canyon, a light breeze began picking up strength as the afternoon progressed, sending in banks of dark gray clouds from the Southwest.
On a fenced piece of land, a group of younger workers leaned low over shovels and concentrated intently on the work at hand: the rush to get ready in time for the growing season this fertile quarter-acre farm plot that will be the heart and soul of Flagstaff Family Farm, a small-scale, all-natural farming model.
Volunteers with two non-profit organizations, AmeriCorps and American Conservation Experience (ACE), have been working out on the farm for several months, helping the owners, Tyler Allenbaugh and his fiancé, Patty Frazier, realize their dream on the six-acre parcel of raw land they purchased in February.
“After a long search, Patty and I closed on the most perfect piece of land to start our own farm and begin our lives together,” Allenbaugh said. “This is when Flagstaff Family Farm was born. We have a market garden. Everything we grow here will be for market – culinary herbs, salad greens and seasonal vegetables. We’re going to run a CSA [Community Supported Agriculture], and do farmers markets and restaurant sales as well.”
Within city limits, the farm is close to services, but far enough away to feel very private. “The topography is perfect for a farm setup,” the farmer said. “We have two acres of sloped, treed area and four acres of level area to farm. The farm has no city resources such as electricity or water. This was fine for us, as we had planned to establish a more sustainable infrastructure. We have plans to collect and store rainwater and use renewable resources such as solar and wind for power.”
Help from volunteers, including the 15 who came Saturday, has made a big difference.
“Earlier today, the garden was looking a lot less developed,” Allenbaugh noted. “We got all our irrigation lines cut. We’re doing all drip irrigation here.”
A.J. Conrad coordinates recruitment and support for volunteers for the Intermountain region of American Conservation Experience, as well as managing and mentoring AmeriCorps members.
“Our members have shown a great amount of excitement for the work being done on the farm and have participated in various activities such as garden bed construction, soil mixing, irrigation setup and staining,” Conrad said. “Each year, our members complete their Volunteer Service Project requirements with a wide variety of agencies and organizations, but those that have completed theirs with FFF have been particularly drawn to Tyler’s enthusiasm, knowledge and passion for his work.”
Allenbaugh met Conrad through his job for more than a year as a barista at Late for the Train on Fort Valley Road.
“Besides being a rewarding work environment, LFTT has been an effective platform to engage with the Flagstaff community about their interest in Community Supported Agriculture,” he said. “The response has been overwhelming!”
The business model for the farm is simple.
“You grow better, not bigger – quality instead of quantity,” Allenbaugh observed. “We will be utilizing modern, bio-intensive farming methods to achieve high-yield, low-water food production to serve the local community here in Flagstaff. A sense of authenticity sets us apart. Customers want to know where their food is coming from. It’s a little different than buying in a grocery store.”
When they are in full production, they will be delivering fresh food to 25 families on a weekly basis, with response so positive he has had to start a waiting list.
“What we’re doing is very unconventional,” Frazier said. “Eventually, we will be farming about one acre, with a projected yield of about $100,000 a year. The business model we’re following is from Jean-Martin Fortier in Quebec and his ‘6-figure farm’ – we’re in the same climate zone as he is.”
Projects Saturday included working up a slight slope from the farm plot, putting finishing touches, including ebony stain, on two special structures, dubbed the “Chicken Condo” and the “Goat Grotto” by friends.
“I’ve been told by some people they might be the nicest chicken and goat structures in Northern Arizona,” he noted.
The matching coops are already in use.
“The chicken coop is primarily for chickens, although three of our older ducks live underneath,” she said. “They do all their laying in the morning. Our ducks lay in the middle of the night – three eggs a day.”
So far, the ever-growing livestock collection includes 18 ducks, 34 chickens, three turkeys, three goats and a dog, “if you want to count her – Greta, a 10-year-old Jack Russell-Dachshund-Chihuahua mix,” Frazier said, with a laugh.
The floors of the two coops are slightly raised, so animals can forage on bare ground when there is snow outside.
Baby ducks happily mix with older ducks, and the four-week-old turkeys like all the company, too.
“Our group is super mellow,” she said. “Goats never want to be wet. Ducks don’t mind the cold. We kind of let things happen organically here. We let them decide what they want to do.”
However, the biggest danger is hawks that can pick off small fowl.
Next door in their own area, the three 14-month-old goats, all siblings and Nigerian dwarf breed, practiced climbing up and down the milking stand that came with them from their former home.
“While they’re young, we need to get them up here and give them treats, so they get used to it,” Frazier said.
The couple, who will marry in June, have divided up duties: Tyler handles the farming and production, with Patty seeing to the planning and budget.
“He’s doing what he wants to do; he want to be out here working in the dirt,” she said. Allenbaugh, who grew up working with his father on their eight-acre property in Prescott, pursued his interest in farming by receiving a certificate in urban farming at the Southwestern Institute of Healing Arts.
In 2015, he rented a 2.5-acre farm just outside of Flagstaff for a year, where he raised chickens and grew seasonal produce on a small scale.
Frazier, who is originally from Georgia, moved out West after being trained as an architect at Clemson and Columbia universities, although she never practiced.
“I got into visual effects in the movie business,” she said.
Today, she works as a website developer at Northern Arizona University. She also designed the house that they will build at the top of their property.
“We wanted a tiny house, but we ended up with 768 square feet,” Frazier said. “Instead of tiny, we went small.”
The design will be a kind of “industrial farmhouse,” and their draft person is making the drawings that will soon be presented to the city, she says.
Flagstaff Family Farms recently received a fund-matching two-to-one grant from Coconino County, which will help the partners build the state-of-the-art greenhouse they envision.
Phase 2 for the farm will include creating another farm plot across the driveway from the first parcel that is being developed.
“We’ll be doing the same exact footprint as Tyler has here,” said Frazier, standing on the one-acre piece that is quickly developing into a fully producing farm. FBN
By Betsey Bruner, FBN