Learn To Grow Organic With RichCrest Farms

This Southern Arizona farm has committed itself to growing local, seasonal produce in the desert.

by Lili DeBarbieri
PHOTO: Lili DeBarbieri

Located in small-town Cochise, Ariz., RichCrest Farms is a beautiful oasis in the desert with an intangibly good vibe. Owner Jim Dumas likes to do things simply—much like farming was before the advent of chemicals. “We’re more organic than Certified Organic farms,” he says.

He doesn’t use mechanized tools to cultivate the land, and he allows buffer zones for wildlife to border the property. Because of the farm’s lushness, a great diversity of bird life stops to use the farm as a water source.

“There has really been a change in the way organic farming is done,” Dumas says. “Back in the 70s, it was about stewardship of the land, making the land better than it was. Now, organic farming is more health-oriented.”

A born-and-bred Southern Arizonan, Dumas is no stranger to agriculture. His mother was an avid gardener, and his father worked at a pipe and steel business that catered to local farms and ranches. Farming, with the peace of mind it provides, was a natural fit for him.

Growing Organic

Grow Organic At The RichCrest Farms Farmstay (HobbyFarms.com)

Despite only having sporadic part-time workers to help on the farm over the years, Dumas has grown RichCrest considerably. Once a field of less than 2 acres, he now owns 18 acres of land with 6 acres in production. He shares these growing tips for visitors and farmers alike:

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  • Grow as many vegetables as possible. In the heat of the desert garlic, okra and black-eyed peas do well.
  • Get the community involved. In RichCrest’s community garden, members can plant their own crops and use RichCrest’s water and land in exchange for helping out Dumas for a few hours. “This was a way to solve our labor shortage,” Dumas says. “Our challenge is to attract more young people into farming, to get young people back on the land.”
  • Have a side business selling and making local products. RichCrest makes delicious sauces, salsas and relish.
  • Don’t keep “open to the public” business hours, as Dumas puts it. Being open by appointment/reservation allows him to spend more time with the people who do come out to learn more about the farm, he says.
  • Provide habitat for wildlife. Dumas doesn’t feel the need to control “pests.” Predators keep the insect population under control.

Diamond In The Rough

Over the years, guests have faithfully returned to this diamond-in-the-rough farm after their first stay. Overnighters can participate in harvesting and planting parties to help get the fields ready. Volunteers always take away some of the harvest or are fed onsite. An annual garlic planting event in October allows visitors to spend the day on the farm, working side by side with farmers. Guests learn proper planting techniques, care of crops and harvesting tips.

Other farm highlights include hayrides, farm tours and the chance to take onsite sustainable-living classes taught by local experts. Participants learn about a wide range of topics: gardening, water harvesting, animal husbandry, canning, solar and alternative energy, and more.

The RichCrest Country Store features homemade jams, jellies, salsa, relish, vinaigrette, grape seed oil and other local products available for purchase. With its eye on a bright future, RichCrest is slowly building its infrastructure. Locals have dedicated time and talent to the community adobe building/art project that provides work facilities for volunteers.

“Our guests are always surprised by how much work farming really is,” Dumas says Jim. Most guests and visitors leave with a new appreciation for food cultivation.

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