Friends and business partners Ellen Kerchner and Sarah Hamilton, two young women fresh out of college, are defying the odds — and the stereotypes — by starting a farm on the east side of Pueblo.

Friends and business partners Ellen Kerchner and Sarah Hamilton, two young women fresh out of college, are defying the odds — and the stereotypes — by starting a farm on the east side of Pueblo.

Lifelong friends from Colorado Springs who look like they could be sisters, the two started leasing a couple of acres of land and renting living quarters earlier this year on property owned by Ryan and Betsy Morris.

The Morrises previously operated Country Roots Farm, which helped to pioneer the local food movement in southern Colorado, offering one of the first subscription vegetable services, or CSAs, in the region and co-founding the Arkansas Valley Organic Growers marketing group, which is still going strong today.

Two years ago they retired from farming but this summer the fields surrounding their farmhouse are lush and green again, filled with onions, tomatoes, okra and more, all thanks to New Roots Farm.

“It’s been a pretty ideal arrangement for us,” Hamilton said. “We feel really lucky.”

As Kerchner describes it, the two started out on different paths but ended up reaching the same conclusion: they wanted to grow food using environmentally regenerative production practices.

From AVOG’s standpoint, with several farmer-members nearing retirement or scaling back, adding young farmers to their fold is a welcome development — especially since everyone knows that starting from scratch is no easy task.

“It’s tough,” said Dan Hobbs, a founding AVOG member who farms near Avondale. “It wasn’t easy when I was breaking into it, and it’s not any easier now.”

“We need to be looking for ways to support young farmers like this,” he added. “I think it’s going to take a lot of different strategies.”

Every beginning farmer brings with them a different set of resources and challenges.

In the case of New Roots, AVOG connections and support has helped. In fact, changing fortunes at one AVOG farm helped provide the means for starting a new one.

Hamilton’s parents, Patrick Hamilton and Susan Gordon, have managed the nonprofit Venetucci Farm, located south of Colorado Springs, for more than a decade. Last year, the farm’s prolific and popular market gardening program was shut down mid-season, when contamination was discovered in the Widefield aquifer that supplies the farm’s irrigation water.

Aside from the famous annual pumpkin patch giveaway, which will continue this fall, the farm is in transition and facing an uncertain future. But there is a silver lining: the situation has freed up the couple to lend a hand to their daughter as she embarks on her new endeavor.

“My parents spent the last 20 years collecting old tractors and various farm tools,” Sarah Hamilton explained. “Things like that really add up when you’re starting out. It’s very difficult to jump into something like this straight out of college. ”

“We call Susan and Patrick at least once a week with questions,” Kerchner added with a smile. Living next door to the Morrises has been helpful too, they said.

New Roots is starting small, with roughly two acres of irrigated farmland and five greenhouses. They currently operate a 30-member CSA, have a weekly stand at the Colorado Farm and Art Market in Colorado Springs and help to supply AVOG. They also keep a few dairy goats, chickens and guinea fowl with hopes of expanding.

“Our goal is to bring more livestock into our vegetable growing operation,” said Kerchner, who previously worked on a ranch in California. “I’d love to develop a rotational grazing system that we could strip-till our vegetables into. There aren’t a lot of people doing that right now.”

They’ve also thought about establishing some type of umbrella business structure that would allow other young people to join them.

“We’ve talked about how awesome it would be to share resources with other young farmers and have lots of different enterprises going,” Kerchner said.

Putting down roots

While they plan to pursue a future in farming together, the two are coming at it from slightly different backgrounds and perspectives.

Hamilton grew up in farming, first in Canon City, and later at Venetucci Farm. Her interest in making it a career solidified while attending Colorado College and interning with the Land Institute, in Salina, Kansas, a nonprofit research foundation famous for its work developing perennial crops designed to mimic the prairie ecosystem.

Kerchner started out as a field biologist before gravitating to farming. “I gradually came to realize all of my conservation goals could be achieved through food and agriculture,” she said.

The other farmers who make up the AVOG marketing group are excited about having a new farm join the mix.

Down the road a short drive east, Doug Wiley is enthusiastic about the new development. The fourth generation on his family’s Centennial farm along the Huerfano River bottom, he observes that most of the neighbor kids he grew up with are no longer actively engaged in agriculture, with the rare exception being Tom Rusler and his family.

Wiley himself is all too familiar with farming’s ups and downs. He and his father lost all but 50 acres of their farm in the financial crisis of the 1980s. After that, they decided to go into grass-based dairying and direct market their milk along with beef, pork, eggs and produce.

In recent months, word went around on the internet that the Wiley farm was struggling with a financial shortfall. Customers and friends rallied to the cause, chipping in with enough money to help the Wileys pay their property taxes before time ran out.

That’s part of why he remains optimistic about the prospects for farms like New Roots and his own Larga Vista Ranch, where a mobile coop full of laying hens follows Jersey cows across improved pastures and pigs stay cool wallowing in the mud beneath hundred-year-old cottonwood trees.

“I’m optimistic or I wouldn’t keep going with this,” he said. “It’s up to the people of Colorado Springs and Pueblo to support this. I think we’re seeing it, especially among young people, that they want access to good local food.”

While consolidation of farms and retailers continues, the changing landscape all but guarantees there will be a place for small farms that can offer an alternative for those who seek it out, he added.

“Everything creates its opposite,” he said reflectively. “For every 5,000-acre grain farm, there’s a New Roots Farm popping up somewhere.”