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Our Town: Foley’s fervor for farming

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The Sopris Sun is conducting a series of interviews with folks you may not have seen in the paper before – a sort of introduction to your neighbors. This week, we caught up with Mariah Foley, the vegetable lead for the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies  (ACES) Rock Bottom Ranch — and a familiar face at local farmer’s markets.

Q: Where are you from and how did you get into agriculture? 
A: I’m original from just south of Denver. Pretty early on, I started hearing more and more about food systems and the way that we can be stewards of the earth through our daily choices. Environmental problems are big and overwhelming, but there’s a lot in the day-to-day tangibility of farming I really like. 

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Q: When did you really get hands on with it?
A: I started farming full time right out of college and lived in very rural Appalachian Pennsylvania for a few years. It was very beautiful and a good job, but a hard place to live… Kids that went to college never came back and people that went to the city never came back so it was weird to be a college educated person from the city and move there. There was a little bit of very valid distrust. People would tell me I was just hanging my hat there for a bit, and I’d be like, “no!” but it ended up being the case. I had a lot of pull to be back closer to my family.

Q: So how did you end up here?
A: After working on the Front Range for a year, I remembered the reasons I moved away from the city. I kind of always was a little bit aware of Carbondale. I have friends and family that live in the area, and I grew up exploring the mountains. This valley is just rural enough. It feels a little Goldilocks-y. There’s more going on than you’d think with a town this size. 

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Q: What does your role with ACES entail?
A: I’m part of a team of about six women that do all the vegetable and livestock production. It’s nice to farm with the support of a nonprofit, being able to keep that production mindset with a little less worry about the financial bottom line. I can take some time and visit with guests and answer questions. If we can lead others to growing their own food, that’s awesome.

Q: Do you get any pushback from the for-profit farmers?
A: There are some really amazing growers in this valley and the North Fork Valley, and I try to be aware of other people’s prices and try not to undercut them. My favorite thing to do, if we don’t have something at market, is being able to refer them to a local farm. I think everyone knows it’s hard to farm here and there’s a sense of collaboration and support.

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Q: How has your affordable housing experience been?
A: ACES provides housing to most of its staff members, which is in itself a wonderful perk. When I took the job I knew this house would be built thanks to a donation from Kim Stacey, and that there would be chickens and gardens, so that was really exciting. Definitely COVID has changed our plans for taking care of the space as everyone’s priorities shifted.

Q: Does farming leave you time to take advantage of the outdoors?
A: I ask myself that every season. I used to take three weeks and do something really cool. It has been a bit of a shift to recreate on a smaller time scale. I’ve also gotten way more into winters and I’ve been trying to make time to run on farm days so I have the energy to explore on the weekends. There’s also this trade off that it’s really easy with agriculture to get to know one particular place deeply— observing the same deer family all season and figuring out which wildflowers bloom when. 

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Q: Anything else people ought to know about you?
A: That’s another thing I’ve been thinking about — do I have a personality outside of farming or is that all I am now? I like to eat and I like to cook, which goes hand in hand with farming and running.

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