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Earth Notes: Sustainable Desert Harvest At Mesa Farm


The gray shale badlands along the lower Fremont River in Utah are desolate - so much so that one group of would-be space travelers chose the area as a site for what they call the Mars Desert Research Station.

But at the Mesa Farm in Caineville, its ties to the earth are predominate. Travelers whizzing to or from nearby Capitol Reef National Park screech to a halt here when they see an unexpected sign advertising fresh bread, vegetables, cheeses and coffee.

Behind the little house that comprises the market, the desert blooms. A farmer named Randy Ramsley has been working the land here for some 20 years, according to principles of sustainability. That means it's a herd of goats and a flock of chickens that provide fertilizer for pasture and for a garden full of vegetables.

The water comes straight from the playbook of the early Mormon settlers: an irrigation canal conveys it to the farm. But the vegetables are fed by modern, and efficient, drip irrigation. Modern, too, are the greenhouse and the big plastic hoop house that shelter crops from spring and fall freezes.

Ramsley and his helpers milk about 2 dozen goats daily, turning their milk into several different varieties of cheese. They also bake bread in a wood-fired outdoor oven.

The farm's produce isn't sold only onsite. It also goes to customers and markets in such southern Utah communities as Escalante and Torrey, bringing a little bit of oasis goodness to town.