Meet the Farmers
The Fleischer Family Farm was born in 2015 as Paul and Chelsie Fleischer grew produce in their 1/18th-of-an-acre yard for a CSA that included four families. Five years later, the Fleischer Family Farm CSA is one of the largest in Denver Metro, serving over 90 members.
The Fleischer Family Farm is a true urban farm: a 1.75 acre parcel the Fleischer’s operate right out their back door. Paul’s persistence, and community support, rescued the space from becoming a high-rise parking lot. Now, what would have been more asphalt and urban runoff is a thriving agricultural ecosystem, fueled by wood chips, microorganisms, and compost. Each season neighbors fill a waiting list to participate in the CSA and line the block to buy-out the farmstand on the weekends.
Waste is an overwhelming issue of both conventional agriculture and industrial food system supply chains. But waste is essentially a human concept. In a properly functioning ecosystem, the “waste” of one cycle is the fuel for another. This reality is on full display at The Fleischer Family Farm as all sorts of waste materials (tree leaves from neighbors, bark mulch from arborists, recycled christmas trees, spoiled grocery produce, chicken droppings, and yes, even composted humanure) are transformed into food for soil biology and ultimately, high-value, high-nutrient products.
The Fleischers are meticulous about finding new ways the farm can function regeneratively. Poultry receive a steady diet of spent produce which is delivered from nearby Natural Grocers, reducing feed costs and improving animal nutrition. In addition to yielding eggs for the egg share, the birds also turn the compost pile and produce fertilizer for the garden beds. Even the fringes of the property demonstrate this creativity. Instead of spending $15,000 on a chain link fence for the perimeter, the Fleischers planted a living fence which requires less input cost and yields organic matter to support soil and a windbreak for the garden beds.
At every opportunity, The Fleischer Family Farm transforms waste into value.
The transition from seed to crop yield is one of the great value-adds in any economic setting, but in the modern industrial agriculture system, low commodity prices and dozens of middlemen eat up farmer profits. In 1975, 40¢ of every dollar spent on food went back to the farm. In 2018, the farm share accounted for only 14.6¢ of every food dollar—the lowest number since the USDA began keeping track. This loss of value limits farmers’ ability to reinvest in the stewardship of their land, which ultimately degrades the quality of the produce they bring to market and the farmers’ quality of life.
The Fleischer Family Farm bucks this trend by raising high-quality produce right within Denver Metro and selling this food directly to customers. On average, “fresh” produce in the US travels 1,500 miles from farm to table. Produce at The Fleischer Family Farm doesn’t even cross the block before it is in a customer’s hands. The sustainability of this scale is the foundation of a secure food system.
The Fleischers don’t need to spend precious time getting their products “out” because their customer base is so eager to come “in”—a testament to the incredible community buy-in they have generated. CSA members, egg share participants, and farmstand customers all visit the farm site to pick up produce that was harvested only 12 hours earlier.
A full-time teacher, Paul first started growing urban produce in his own backyard over summer breaks. Each summer he built new beds and added new varieties, a growth pattern that kicked into high gear when the Fleischers acquired their current farm property. In 2020, The Fleischer Family Farm’s CSA supported 91 families, some of whom have been members for five years and counting. The CSA season runs 18 weeks, with pickups of full and half produce shares available weekly or bi-weekly. For 2021, the Fleischers dialed CSA membership back to 75-80 members so more produce is available for higher-margin sales through the farmstand, which is always selling out too quickly. The 2021 CSA membership sold out completely in only six days.
The Fleischer’s on-site farmstand is Metro Denver’s gateway to urban produce. The farmstand is open to the community every weekend for 18-30 weeks, and lines often run down the block. In 2020 especially, Paul and Chelsie often found themselves sold out of produce within an hour of opening the stand. One customer buys bulk salad greens from the stand only once a month because unlike store greens, they are so fresh and hardy they last for weeks in cold storage.
Prior to COVID protocols, weekend produce pickups offered a chance for neighbors to congregate at the farm and children to enjoy the farm playground together. In the interest of safety, internet pre-orders minimize contact and while still delivering critical access to quality food.
The farmstand accepts EBT (food stamps) and participates in the Double Up Food Bucks programs through Nourish Colorado to ensure that neighbors of all income levels can access quality food. The Fleischers also provide a number of CSA shares to WIC participants every year.
Community support has driven the rapid growth of The Fleischer Family Farm. CSA members, customers, and even local city council members promote the farm through their networks and social media, driving new business to the site every week. The majority of farm customers come from within 5 miles of the farm, and many are within walking distance. Farmstand customers receive a discount for walking or biking to pick up their produce, adding to the already vibrant community connection.
In addition to exceptional urban produce, The Fleischer Family Farm delivers unique value-added products and educational experiences for urban homesteaders.
- CSA Shares: The CSA share is Fleischer’s core offering—large and small shares of mixed produce boxes are available for weekly pickup throughout the growing season.
- Direct Produce: Individual produce products are available through the on-site farmstand. Increasing produce inventory for the farmstand represents a major growth opportunity for the farm.
- Value-Added Products: In addition to produce, the Fleischers sell cut flowers, honey from on-site bees, handmade beeswax soaps, and even firewood (the wood is delivered by tree-trimming companies, saving it from the landfill and turning a profit at the same time).
- Farm Classes: Education is at the heart of The Fleischer Family Farm’s mission. With Paul’s experience as an agriculture teacher, it only makes sense to offer farm classes. Paid courses are facilitated in-person and online, covering backyard chicken keeping, beekeeping, food preservation, soap making and more. Paul is also sought-after for paid farm tours and speaking engagements for schools and programs like Colorado State University, GoFarm, and Veterans to Farmers.
- Farm-to-Table Dinners: These gatherings are on temporary hiatus, but community dinners the Fleischers facilitate at the farm sell out every time. The last dinner had a wait list of over 30 people. When Paul transitions to full-time management, the Fleischers hope to further develop agri-tourism offerings.
A Model for Future Farms
There are currently 2.05 million farms in the US, a drastic reduction from a peak of 6.8 million in 1935. Of those 2 million, over half (1 million+ farms) are considered “very small farms” by the USDA. These farms record less than $10,000 in annual sales and their producers receive most of their income from off-farm jobs. In order to realize the benefits of regenerative agriculture—carbon sequestration, higher nutrient foods, increased biodiversity, recharged aquifers—the US food system needs a drastic increase in the number of farms, hands on the land, and acreage under regenerative management.
The Fleischer Family Farm’s partnership with Steward perfectly demonstrates how capital building and business support can activate those 50% of US farms to restore degraded lands, provide much-needed produce to communities, and build resilient and profitable businesses doing so.