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Friends & Fa(r)milies Welcome in Adams County, CO

Adams County farms supply locally grown food and connect residents (and visitors!) through fun events.

By Amy Antonation on May 26, 2023

Steve Jones

With scenic views of the Rocky Mountains to the west and the expansive Eastern Plains to the, well, east, it’s no wonder Adams County is a destination for agritourism. Area farmers of all stripes have found ways to keep agricultural traditions alive while engaging neighbors and visitors in new ways.

Vineyards at Balistreri Vineyards

Jazz and Juice

Balistreri Vineyards is an agricultural operation with deep roots in the area. According to Julie Balistreri (who says she is “officially the VP and unofficially the winemaker’s daughter”), her father’s Sicilian family settled in the area in the early 1900s and made a living growing vegetables and then flowers.

Her family has always been adaptable: When growing flowers was no longer economically feasible, patriarch John Balistreri – who had learned to make wine from his great-uncles and great-grandfather – planted grape vines and began producing wine for sale in the late 1990s.

“To let people know we were here, we started to do different events,” Julie says.

A mutual friend connected the Balistreris with KUVO, a local jazz radio station, and in 2005, “Live at the Vineyards” debuted. The fundraiser for the station spanned two days and consisted of what Julie calls “Sicilian picnics.”

“We had a couple of local artists play, and food and wine,” she says.

Tina Cartagena, senior vice president of radio at KUVO, says that first year “we were lucky if we had 30 or 40 people over two days.” In the event’s second year, says Cartagena, around 300 people showed up, and these days, the annual show consistently sells out, drawing 1,200 guests or more for a night of music, dancing, food from over 20 local restaurants, and Balistreri wine.

That’s thanks in part to an impressive event center Balistreri constructed on its grounds in 2012, as well as the caliber of performers taking the stage at the event.

“We’ve had great local artists who are worthy of the national stage and national artists come in,” says Cartagena, including Hazel Miller, René Marie, Monty Alexander and the Grammy Award-winning Spanish Harlem Orchestra, led by Oscar Hernández. “A lot of the musicians say, ‘You have to book me again next year!’”

August of 2023 marks Live at the Vineyards’ 18th year, and The Count Basie Orchestra is scheduled to perform. The Balistreris are looking forward to hosting yet again.

“We’re always happy to support KUVO, because we love supporting the musicians,” Julie Balistreri says.

Berry Good Times

Another agricultural operation in the area is Berry Patch Farms in Brighton.

“It’s a bit of an oasis,” says Tim Ferrell, who owns and works the land along with his wife, Claudia.

Their 40-acre, certified organic farmstead is situated on the western edge of the Historic Splendid Valley agricultural district, which was established by Adams County and the City of Brighton with the goal of preserving farmland, supporting local food production and stimulating agritourism. From June through September, guests can pick their own strawberries and raspberries, basil, cucumbers and flowers. The Ferrells even provide containers for the berries and vases and scissors for the blooms. Also growing on the farm: beets, cantaloupe, carrots, cherries, currants, eggplant, greens, onions, pumpkins and other squash, tomatoes and watermelon, just to name a few.

“I can’t even tell you the full number,” Tim says with a laugh when asked how many crops he nurtures. Fruit and veggies that aren’t pick-your-own end up in the farm’s barn store or as part of its community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares. And thanks to a high tunnel greenhouse, says Ferrell, Berry Patch is able to sell CSA shares of farm-fresh food in winter as well as in summer months.

In addition, the Ferrells occasionally host “floral teas,” where attendees snip flowers from the fields and learn to arrange them while enjoying a relaxing cup of tea. There are also field trips and birthday parties for school-age children. Depending on what’s in season, classes may go berry or pumpkin picking, enjoy a hayride or straw maze or visit one of the farm’s 10 beehives.

Ferrell, who has owned Berry Patch since 1998, has a ready answer when asked what keeps him in a notoriously challenging business:

“Being outside, seeing plants, seeing the flowers on strawberries as they bloom,” he says. “Seeing people relax and enjoy themselves out here. They really unwind [when they’re] out of the city. That brings me a lot of joy.”

Preserving Farmland

When Brighton experienced quick, heavy growth in the early 2000s, residents voiced concern over the loss of valuable farmland and the farming heritage that was synonymous with the city.

So, in 2016, Brighton and Adams County designated approximately 300 acres in Brighton as the Historic Splendid Valley. That partnership is intended to preserve the last cohesive area of the valuable farmland surrounding Brighton, says Shannon McDowell, senior long range planner for the City of Brighton.

“The preservation of farmland helps visually separate Brighton from the rest of the Denver metropolitan area,” she says.

The city’s preservation efforts include:

  • Rehabilitation of the Bromley/Koizuma-Hishinuma Farm.
  • Relocation of the early 20th century Foley Farm Barn to a city park prior to the development of its original site.
  • Restoration of the Brighton Train Depot.

In 1907, the train depot was originally constructed on Cabbage Avenue – a nod to the many cabbage-loading docks in the area. After a revamp of the building’s electrical system and accessibility improvements, it’s now home to the Greater Brighton Chamber of Commerce and Brighton’s visitor center.

Along with a nearby library and performing arts center, the depot is part of “a really cute campus and open space” downtown, says Natalie Cummings, the Chamber’s president and CEO. Cummings is also researching additional uses for the building that would emphasize its history:

“We never want to deter from that,” Cummings says. 

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