Natalie Condon and Natascha Sherman Hess never met when they were growing up near each other in Connecticut, but as they talk on the loading dock at Isabelle Farm on a summer afternoon, it almost seems inevitable they would collaborate around food. After each migrated to Colorado, their paths intersected six years ago because of fresh, organic produce.
“I met Natascha when she and her husband became CSA members here. She was a very unhappy lawyer at the time,” says Condon, who opened Isabelle Farm with her husband, Jason, in 2005 in Lafayette, just west of U.S. 287 on Baseline Road.
“When she told me she wanted to cook for a living, I said she was crazy. The only thing harder than being a farmer is [being] a chef,” Condon says.
“Being a CSA customer reignited my love of cooking,” says Hess who ditched her law career, apprenticed in a restaurant and launched Boulder’s Ginger Pig. The food truck focuses on the fresh, intensely flavored foods Hess discovered as a student living and traveling in Asia.
After more than a year of visiting a different brewery tasting room every day, Ginger Pig is now dishing blissful char sui pork, karaage chicken and red curry Wednesdays through Saturdays in the Isabelle Farm Store parking lot.
For East County foodies, it’s like a great new Asian eatery has been added to the list of dining options. For Hess, on her fourth transmission and third truck engine, it’s an opportunity to take up residency. But she only did it because of the right relationships.
“This is the only farm I wanted to partner with because of their philosophy. I knew how they were growing the food,” Hess says.
“We have been approached by dozens of food trucks who wanted to set up in the parking lot but I wasn’t comfortable with them. When Natascha asked me it sounded like a perfect match,” Condon says.
“People who come here are very much locavores who seek out local food and a lot live in the neighborhood. They are the ones who wanted this land saved from development. They didn’t want townhouses or more Open Space. They wanted a working organic farm.”
Isabelle Farm produces asparagus, spinach, arugula, radishes and more than 80 other organic crops on 500 acres within five miles of the farm store. The distinctive barn on Thomas Open Space near Waneka Lake is owned by the City of Lafayette and leased to the farm.
The sustainable food network webbing outward from the Isabelle Farm Store reaches to other farms, bakeries, artisan food and drink producers as well as food activist organizations like Slow Food.
The crops go to CSA members and are sold to customers and to a few restaurants including OAK at Fourteenth and Fresh Thymes as well. “It’s better to deal with restaurants that really walk the talk,” Condon says.
Louisville’s Moxie Bread Co. will be supplying Isabelle Farm’s CSA program with heirloom wheat bread loaves this summer. “We’re selective with where we bring our baked goods. To be a part of the amazing local food community at Isabelle is exciting for us,” says Moxie owner Andy Clark.
Unlike seasonal farm stands, Isabelle Farm Store is open all year. Condon says they intended to only sell their own produce, but customers started asking for more. The cases and shelves of the store are packed with crops and foods produced by locals including pastured, all-natural beef and lamb, cage-free farm eggs, milk, organic produce from other Colorado organic farms, hothouse produce in the winter, local snacks, beverages and gifts.
Familiar local food product names include Ozuke, Haystack Mountain, Hazel Dell and Savory Spice Shop. The store is the rare location where you can purchase breads baked at Boulder’s Mediterranean Restaurant rather than at the company’s eateries.
It also features other collaborations: “We have Cristina’s Gluten-Free Quiche, which uses our produce. It’s a great collaboration,” Condon says.
Parked at this agricultural oasis in a suburban sea, Hess is already using Condon’s greens in a salad with jackfruit. After a long wet spring on the farm, she is looking forward to using cucumbers, shishito peppers and other vegetables.
“Just wait ’till August when I get sweet roasted corn for street corn with sriracha aioli,” Hess says. Because Condon has given land to some of the farm’s Hmong workers, Hess will even have access to hard-to-source organic Asian greens.
Hess is offering a discount for customers who bike over and eat on the store’s shaded veranda. Some grab food and take it blocks away to notable tasting rooms like Liquid Mechanics, Cellar West and Odd13, where they got to know Hess and Ginger Pig’s fare in the first place.
Local Food News
Opening soon: Mojo Taqueria, 2785 Iris Ave., former location of Arugula, Ristorante Laudisio and A La Carte; Teocali Cocina Tequileria,1335 South Boulder Road, Lafayette. … LoCo Gastropub has opened in Longmont in the former Breaker’s Grill space. … Sample authentic island dishes and tunes at the Taste of Puerto Rico, June 9, Civic Center Park in Denver. … Restaurants can be part of Colorado’s most important culinary event by putting a Taste of Slow Food Nations dish using a food product facing extinction on their menu June 19-July 19. slowfoodnations.org/taste-of-nations
Taste of the Week
Boulder’s Green Belly — known for its authentic Guatemalan hot sauces at farmers’ markets — also crafts the classic condiment chirmol. While tomatoes are part of the recipe and it looks like chunky salsa in the jar, one taste sets it in a different category. Made with fire-roasted tomatoes, hierbabuena (spearmint) and onions, chirmol is more like an herbaceous Middle Eastern relish without the chile heat. It’s a refreshing change on grilled meats, over potatoes and on eggs.
Words to Chew On
“You worry too much about what goes into your mouth and not enough about what comes out of it.” — Leah Chase, New Orleans’ restaurateur and civil rights activist (1923-2019)
John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursday on KGNU: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles