Kip Hays’ face shone a rosy red from the sun piercing a bird’s blue sky on Friday. A black cowboy hat stretched over his spiky white handlebar mustache.
Hays, a Cameo farmer and salesman, patrolled behind his boxes of green peppers, oval squash and fuzzy peaches. Customers browsed intensely, trying to get what they could before one of Rifle’s last farmers’ markets in Heinze Park closed for the season.
“On my stand,” he says, “90% of what I sell, I grow it.”
It’s not the last hurray of the season for Hays, however, or for enjoying fresh, locally grown produce. Rifle Farmers Market board members have spent the past week preparing for its sixth annual farm-to-table dinner and fundraiser, scheduled for 5 p.m. Saturday at the Bookcliffs Arts Center. Tickets – $55 per person – are available online and help support next season’s farmer’s market and farm-to-table event.
This outdoor dining experience hosted by the Rifle Development Corporation consists of a four-course meal created primarily from West Slope agriculture and even picked from local gardens, said Emily Bassett, board member of the Rifle Development Corporation. farmer’s market.
“Last year we made salad with local greens, with different rockets and spinach,” she said on Tuesday. “We have a good lettuce supplier who donated all the ingredients this year.”
One of the producers behind this year’s potential menu of rosemary roast potatoes and peach margaritas is Hays. Hays donated cans of onions, potatoes and beans. But while its products are as fresh as morning dew, its roots go back more than 100 years.
Fields of peaches, tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and hay can be found just across the Colorado River in James M. Robb State Park. Hays’ parents – Thelma and Herbert H. – purchased the property in 1957 through Thelma’s family, who have operated it since the turn of the 20th century.
After high school, Hays spent the next 30 years in the oil industry before returning and joining brothers Jack and Will in exploiting this fertile acreage.
“As my parents got older, it was time for me to settle down and for us brothers to take over the farm and carry on the family legacy,” Hays said.
Continuing this legacy means peach tree pruning begins every February. April is devoted to tasks like plowing and fertilizing. At harvest time, the Hays farm produces more than 3,600 boxes of peaches — 24 to 45 pounds per box — alone, according to 2021 figures.
Hays ships its products nationwide. Alaska. New York. Arizona. A customer buys peaches from Hays even when she’s vacationing in Georgia – The Peach State. Customers in Dodge City, Kansas can’t help but blast their text messages for this western Colorado delicacy. But what’s especially special about Rifle’s Farm to Table event is that he gets to see first-hand how happy his customers are.
“It gives you a good feeling,” he said. “It makes me happy to see someone enjoying it, because it makes my work and my time worthwhile.”
Basset can’t wait. A nice big well lit tent. About 100 patrons, including local movers and politicians, dine al fresco next to a Rifle institution that dates back to 1989.
Saturday night also includes a live performance by Noodle Soup, a small offshoot of Symphony in the Valley, and a silent auction.
“I feel like this is one of the most magical events in Rifle,” she said. “Under the tent and the glowing lights, the beautiful flowers, the wonderful meal – and you can see so many community members.”
Unfortunately, Hays will not be attending Saturday’s ceremony, he said sullenly. It’s always busy season for Hays. He has even more farmers’ markets elsewhere to peddle his peaches and not enough time to take a break.
But once his season is over, Hays said he can’t wait to take his mules to the Colorado Highlands, where he’ll fish, ride and wait for the next peach season to bloom.
“You don’t farm to live or work,” Hays said. “You do the work because you have a passion for it.