By Jennifer Welch – The Crowded Acre
“The wheels on the bus go round and round …”
It was mid-summer when we purchased the 1984 65-passenger Bluebird school bus. At that time, it had been almost a full year since I had broken the news to my husband – I wanted to go back into the food service industry. I can’t be sure if he fully believed me then, but I am certain he believes me now. “If I can fit it down my winding driveway, I’ll take it,” I exclaimed to the previous owner of the school bus, despite being utterly unsure of where this adventure might take me. But it fit down the driveway like it was meant to be, and it hasn’t left our property since. After some explaining and very little coercing, my husband nodded for me to go ahead with my plans and insisted he be allowed to come along for the ride.
When I first entered the world of farming, I only knew two things for certain: 1. I would never be a pig farmer, and 2. I would never go back to the food service industry … never say never. Not only am I a certifiably insane pig farmer, I am taking my pigs into the food service industry at full throttle. The original plan was to convert an old chicken trailer into a mobile taco truck. But after I fell in love with the old school bus, my husband and I found ourselves truly beginning to outline our future. This is a future based on local farms, hard work and freshly made food offerings. We (almost) immediately accepted it as fate and before we knew it, things started falling into place. The very day we were looking for the perfect lot on which to park a farm-to-fork food truck we were approached by someone with an opening … our friends at the Deerhammer. And as fate would have it, we agreed to take the spot and have been working to turn this dream into a reality ever since.
The school bus is slowly beginning to take shape as a food truck complete with new a exterior paint job, amateur as it may be, and a commercial kitchen interior. The Bearded Lady, as she is now known, is preparing to serve a menu based around the animal protein offerings of The Crowded Acre. Farrow-to-finish pork, free-range chicken, grass fed beef, and pastured chicken and duck eggs will grace the menu, alongside other local offerings from the always lovely Trout Creek Farm, operating just outside of Johnson Village. The food truck will also focus on utilizing other Colorado ingredients as much as possible. The goal is to build local community through the act of supporting local agriculture, while offering a uniquely handcrafted product to consumers. My pork tacos take an average of 14 months to completion … slow food, local food, handcrafted food, well-thought-out food … this is my offering. I have said it before and I will say it again: In order to succeed, small farms need to market a unique product, or they need to market a common product in a unique way. When you consider our location of operation, this might be as unique as we can get …
Pork tacos aren’t new. Handcrafted whiskey isn’t new. And certainly, the popular combination of craft distilleries and food trucks is no unique offering. But how many farm owners operate food trucks to help pander their products? And how many of those farmer/food truck operators use spent grain from a local distillery to raise the majority of their grain-eating meat animals? And how many of those farmer/food truck operators using spent grain from a local distillery to raise their grain-eating meat animals get to park their food truck in the same space as the local distillery that provides the spent grain? I daresay we might be the only ones. And with that said, in less than a year’s time, you will find – in a small mountain town on the bustling main street of an enormously big-hearted community – a genuine, local experience boasting a grain-to-glass-to-farm-to-fork offering – all in one sitting. I have always felt that feeding people was an act of love, and I have come to learn firsthand that farming is precisely the same. And never in a million years did I think I could come up with a way to tell you all, human and animal alike, exactly how much love I have for you … until now. From our Crowded hearts to yours: hope to see you next spring in that small mountain town on that bustling main street of that enormously big hearted community, truly enjoying the fruits of our labor.
Jen Welch lives and writes in the Upper Arkansas Valley, and she truly believes it is heaven on earth … even the sandy parts.