The Fleischer Family Farm – NRCS and Urban Ag Operations
Written by: Petra Popiel, NRCS State Public Information Officer
DENVER, CO – The Fleischer’s travels have led to many adventures including living in the UK working for AmeriCorps, teaching English in Seoul Korea, and even working at an orphanage in Africa. They finally settled in Denver, Colorado in 2009 where they not only found their life’s purpose but found it to be an equally adventurous experience. Paul and Chelsie Fleischer own and operate The Fleischer Family Farm, one of Denver’s successful urban agricultural operations. Paul is also a teacher at Alameda High School where he works with kids with special needs and teaches high school agriculture.
“When we came back stateside, we moved to Colorado because I loved the state, but I was basically looking for work,” said Paul. “I got a job working for Greenpeace and rose through the ranks. I travelled internationally and got to work on a number of amazing projects, but I got burned out, so I got my teachers license, started teaching at a school that had a farm on the property, and that, oddly enough is what lead me to a love of farming and my career in agriculture.”
Not only did teaching provide Paul with stability and a career he was passionate about, it also provided time off. He needed something to fill the unexpected gap.
“As a teacher, you get summers off and I’m the kind of person that doesn’t do well just sitting around so, on our tiny 1/18 acre lot I started growing a garden. I had just two beds at the start, but by the time we left that house in 2015, the entire back and front yards were filled with garden beds and about eight chickens. I was hooked,” he said.
Today the Fleischer Family Farm consists of 2 acres and a 60-member Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) operation. USDA’s Agricultural Research Service (ARS) defines CSAs as “a community of individuals who pledge support to a farm operation so that the farmland becomes, either legally or spiritually, the community’s farm, with the growers and consumers providing mutual support and sharing the risks and benefits of food production.”
Typically, members or “share-holders” of the CSA operation pledge in advance to cover the anticipated costs of the farm operation. In return, they receive shares in the farm’s bounty throughout the growing season, as well as satisfaction gained from reconnecting to the land and participating directly in food production.
“We started to sell at a tiny farmer’s market. It was me, one other farmer and a baker. That was our intro into selling commercially. Now, in my CSA, we offer full and ½ share options,” said Paul. “Full share options equal about $40.00 worth of food every week for 18 weeks. People get a mix of things from tomatoes, eggs, strawberries, honey, herbs, peppers, potatoes, grapes, mesclun lettuce mix, green beans, squash, onions and many other options. It varies from year to year because I try and experiment.”
The Fleischer’s commitment to land stewardship, conservation, and community runs deep. It is a value system that provides opportunities to help educate not only their children, but also students at Alameda High as well as members of his CSA.
“I’m a teacher and farmer,” Paul goes on to say. “One of the reasons we decided to make this a business was to show our children the value of hard work while ensuring they were eating high quality, nutritious food. I also teach at a school where over 85% of the students are on free and reduced lunch programs, and that has a demographic of students that might not go to college and might not need to go. I approached the principle with an idea.”
Fleischer proposed to teach an agricultural program so students would have more diverse career outlets and in 2017 the principal agreed. Fleischer started small with two classes and today it has grown into a pathway program which includes five classes with about 20 students enrolled in each. He teaches Intro to Agriculture, Fundamentals of Agriculture, Introduction to Horticulture, Urban Farming, and Agribusiness. Paul states, “we’re also in the process of building a community garden at the school and I plan to teach students about the business of agriculture, financing, selling, managing, etc.”. He also teaches urban agricultural classes on his farm. With about 15 students per class he teaches Backyard Chicken Keeping 101, the Basics of Bee Keeping, Home-made Soap Making, and a class he calls Farming at Altitude
In 2019 the Fleischer’s bought an additional 1.6 acres of land adjacent to their home. They now do farm to table dinners, community pumpkin patches, run a farm stand from the new lot and teach their classes in their new outdoor learning facility. The Fleischer’s even purchased a tiny house for the new lot and rent it out for people to experience urban agriculture first hand.
Fleischer’s commitment to conservation and expansion also led him to pursue a relationship with USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). “It’s a pleasure working with non-traditional ag operators and landowners,” says Maria Bumgarner, NRCS Soil Conservationist in Longmont. “NRCS provides technical assistance to urban ag producers, but the agency may also provide financial assistance too.” Fleischer Farms utilized NRCS’ Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to help install cover crops, high tunnels, a crop rotation, and microirrigation systems.
Their urban farm provides the Fleischer’s with many of their family’s needs and wants, and the best part Paul shares, “is that I get to do this with my kids and wife. She’s my best friend. I really love that the food makes me sweat. Seeing the literal fruits of your labor being enjoyed by people and helping them live a better life is what it’s all about.”
Helping People Help the Land.
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