Students at Highwater Farm host community lunch to celebrate sustainable agriculture
On a recent summer day, about three dozen local residents gathered for the second-annual community lunch at Highwater Farm in Silt.
The 5-acre farm, which sits along the Colorado River, was started by Sara Tymczyszyn in partnership with the Town of Silt and the Aspen Valley Land Trust in 2020.
The farm’s annual community lunch is hosted by high school students in the farm’s eight-week summer youth program, which launched last year.
This year, the seven students in the program helped prepare the community meal with vegetables they grew on the farm. They also led farm tours and gave speeches about how the program has impacted their lives.
It was a hot morning on the day of the community lunch, and the students arrived early to get a head start on the daily farmwork.
One group was weeding while the others were shoveling dirt into bags that will be used as weights to hold down a large tarp over recently harvested garlic beds.
Sora Hess, who goes to Glenwood High School, took a break from his shoveling to explain that the process allows the garlic beds to rest so that they can be planted again next year.
“So, basically, what it does is it keeps the weeds from regrowing and spreading a lot and also helps put nutrients back in the soil,” he said.
A big part of why Hess wanted to work on the farm this summer was to be outside.
“I also want money because that's obviously always a reason to get a job,” he said.
It's the second year that Highwater Farm has offered the paid internship program, and students can earn up to $3,000 over the course of eight weeks.
In addition to growing and selling local produce, the students also learn about the agricultural history of the area, explore topics such as food insecurity and climate change, gain practical skills such as public speaking, and participate in group activities, including camping and hiking.
On this particular day, the extracurricular activity is to help prepare the community lunch.
Local chefs Tiffany Pineda-Scarlett and Joey Scarlett greeted the students in the farm’s open-air kitchen.
The couple runs a local catering business called The Farmer & The Chef, and they volunteered to help teach the students how to cook a meal using the vegetables they grew on the farm this summer.
“We're making carne guisada and sauteed squash with peas and onions and garlic and steamed rice and a nice big salad,” Pineda-Scarlett said. “And we're gonna make a vinaigrette soon, which will be fun. We'll teach you guys how to do that.”
Pineda-Scarlett, who grew up in Miami, said teaching the students how to prepare a meal reminds her of her own experience learning to cook.
“When I was probably seven or eight, probably big enough to hold a knife or a spoon, my grandma on my mom's side would come spend summer vacations with us from Nicaragua,” she said. “She loved to cook and she would have me like, you know, pick the tips off of green beans and peel potatoes and slowly taught me her ways.”
Pineda-Scarlett said she hopes to bring that same joy to the students at the farm.
The chefs started by giving a demonstration on how to chop bell peppers and zucchini squash.
“You're making these long strokes. So do this motion for me for a second,” Pineda-Scarlett said. “And the movement isn't coming for your wrist. It's coming from your shoulder. So try that.”
When the demonstration was finished, the students were each assigned a cooking station.
Sora Hess volunteered to help chop the fennel, and about halfway through, he took a break to try a piece.
“It just feels better to eat something you've grown, you know?” he said. “You know what effort was put into it and kind of realize that you helped make this.”
On the other side of the kitchen, chef Joey Scarlett taught Coal Ridge High School students Aileen Ramirez and Julian Jasso how to emulsify oil and vinegar to create a simple vinaigrette for the salad.
Once the oil and vinegar were sufficiently mixed together, Scarlett walked the students through the rest of the recipe.
“We're looking for that sweetness, the acidity, and savory,” he said. “We have the acidity from your mustard, your vinegar, and the sweetness from your honey, and a little bit of the richness from your olive oil.”
Scarlett explained that an important part of being a chef is to taste what you make along the way.
“So if you want to stick your hands out like that, make a fist, and give it a taste,” he said. “How does it taste? Pretty good, huh? Super simple.”
After the vinaigrette was finished, Ramirez and Jasso helped chef Tiffany Pineda-Scarlett prepare the steamed rice.
“So when I cook rice, I think it's really important to put a lot of intention into it,” she said. “I do think at the end of the day, your food tastes better when you put that love and intention into it.”
The first step was to rinse and strain the rice and remove the excess starch, which Pineda-Scarlett showed the students how to do by hand.
“This is how my mom always made it, she never used a colander. She always just used her hands,” she said. “So we'll just go over to the grass and we're just gonna tilt the water out and let it fall. And then we'll catch any little bit of rice with our hands."
At about noon, guests started arriving for the community lunch and the students took turns giving farm tours.
Ramirez dressed up in a corn suit for the occasion.
She volunteered to lead the first tour with her friend Yesenia Serna, who also goes to Coal Ridge High in Silt.
“Welcome to our farm,” Ramirez said. “These right here on our left are some potatoes, and then we have corn right here and then we have some beans.”
Across the field, Asher Charlesworth led another tour of the chicken coop.
Charlesworth goes to Liberty Classical Academy in New Castle and grew up raising chickens on his family’s farm in Silt.
“We'll put hay in here,” he said, pointing to the chicken coop. “And then they'll poop and then we'll take it out and spread it all over the grass and then remove it.”
Charlesworth’s mom, Tara, came for the lunch and was not surprised that her son was right at home on the farm.
“We actually live on a little tiny farm where we raise our own chickens and ducks and turkeys and cows and vegetables and fruit in Silt,” she said.
When it was time for lunch, Rifle High School student Wyatt Brandt got out his guitar and strummed a few songs as guests took their seats at several long tables in the shade.
Highwater Farm Director Sara Tymczyszyn kicked off the lunch by thanking the students and staff for their hard work this summer.
“It takes a lot to build a farm, and everyone that is here today is a part of that momentum,” she said. “This is our third season on the farm, and I am very, very excited about the progress our youth program has made.”
After introductions from Tymczyszyn, the farm’s youth program lead, Ava Gilbert, shared her experience working with the students this summer.
“It's just been really special to see them bond and create their own community over the season and to be able to work with them every day and help teach them the world of agriculture,” Gilbert said. “It has been amazing to find out how much it amplifies my own appreciation for the work.”
Gilbert then invited Julian Jasso and several other students up to give their speeches.
In the weeks leading up to the community lunch, the students attended public-speaking workshops and practiced what they were going to say, but Jasso told the crowd he was still nervous.
“I hate this, but let’s get into it. Today's topic for me is about friendship and how Highwater Farm kind of introduced me to being able to make new friends with anyone,” he said. “I'm not really from here, and I didn't really have much confidence coming into this.”
Jasso moved to the Colorado River valley from Los Angeles when he was five, and he said it's friendships such as the ones he made on the farm this summer that make him feel at home in a new place.
“They kind of just forced us to talk to each other and said, ‘You do this, you do that, you know, talk to each other, make friends, play games,’ and it worked,” he said. “It did change me who I am today. It just shows me that you can be friends with anyone no matter who they are — you just have to get to know 'em, really.”
After Jasso’s speech, a few more students shared what they learned on the farm. Lunch was then served.
Rifle High School teacher Lori Mentink and her mom, Phyllis Walker, were sitting at a long table.
Walker said seeing the potatoes growing during the farm tour earlier in the day reminded her of her childhood growing up on a farm.
“I grew up in the San Luis Valley, and we always started school early in August,” she said. “We went to school for about three weeks. Then we got off and the whole K-12 all went to work in the potato fields for potato harvest.”
Walker and Mentink are glad to see that kids are still learning about sustainable agriculture despite the shrinking number of small, family farms across the country.
Silt resident Tara Charlesworth agreed with Walker and Mentink.
She said her son Asher liked the program so much last summer that he asked to do it again this year.
“It's been such a great program for him, team building, and learning and growing,” she said. “It's a really rich and beautiful place for him to work and to be involved with.”
She hopes more local kids will get to have the same experience that her son had.
This year’s youth program wrapped up Aug. 5.
Highwater Farm will be posting the application for next summer’s youth program in January.
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