July 2024
Local Food
Chef Molly Beverly

Farm Stories

Corey Rade and Whipstone Farm

On an extra-early morning in mid-June I meet Corey Rade at his Whipstone Farm. It’s early, still cool, but the wash room is already spilling catchy Mexican music out across the parking area. Corey’s at home, welcoming me with a big pour of coffee and a hug.

He sketches his personal farming history, starting as a kid in Littlefield, Nevada and Flagstaff. His mom had always kept a good garden going, but, Corey says, “I was a failure. I picked the wrong crops and nothing worked. I gave up a couple of times. Besides, the season in Flagstaff is so short and the water is so scarce. The few wells are super deep. We had grasshoppers bad, everywhere; (to them) the weeds looked like popsicles.”

Corey’s regular advice to gardeners is “never give up,” and he didn’t. In 1995 he moved his young family to a six-acre hilltop with good water in Paulden. He started gardening, and “it just kept getting bigger and bigger.” Soon he was making home deliveries. There were still failures, of course. Corey puts it this way: “There’s always something that fails in any year. It’s a complex system and conditions change beyond our control. That’s why we always plant a variety of crops.”

We grab our coffee cups and head out into the morning to look around. While moving pipes, opening and closing irrigation valves, checking soil moisture and giving instructions to workers, Corey explains,“What I really, really love is picking . . . harvesting. That’s what got me hooked on growing food. So I bought this great little piece of land. The first couple of years we had very little rain. The storms just circled around us. Then some years later we were hit with three and a half inches of rain in an hour and a half! A three-foot-deep river ran through the fields. It trashed the greenhouse, moved a wall of mud across the garden and ripped out the tomatoes and peppers.”

In ensuing years he saw that happen four times. So he looked for growing ground elsewhere. He borrowed land from friendly neighbors. He installed irrigation systems and invested in building the soil. When the neighbors decided to sell or move, he’d have to start over. He finally found his “north nine” about four miles north in the Paulden flatlands.

The original hilltop farm soil is ‘cobbly clay’, a soil type that includes large rocks and sticky clay masses. It has good mineral content and water retention and can be built into good soil, but this patch had a great many cobblestones. “Rocks are hell on tools,” Corey says. “The Paulden soil is ‘sandy silt,’ just beautiful, with no rocks at all. It’s much easier to grow in.” A few years later he bought the adjoining five acres, so now the north nine is really the north fifteen, but the name remains.

Clay, sand and silt are a good base, but decayed plant material (‘soil organic matter’) is essential. In the fall, when the farm crops are finished and cool weather returns, Corey and other organic farmers plant cover crops that grow in lower temperatures, hang on through freezes and start growing again in spring. By April those are knee-high, ready to be plowed under. With water to activate the bacteria and enzymes, they replenish the soil nutrients and create spaces for air, water and root infiltration. Corey crumbles a clod of earth to demonstrate.

Corey gets questions about organics a lot, and he answers, “We don’t use the term ‘organic’ because it’s very expensive to get certified, but we go above and beyond with organic practices, and we stick to it.” Last year Corey lost most of his tomato crop to grasshoppers. The only organically approved insecticide for grasshoppers was not available because the NoLo factory in Durango had burned. Corey says, “There are chemical solutions, but I don’t use them, so sometimes you just have to lose the crop.”

It’s the same with weeds. Corey and I both complain about invasive bindweed, convolvulus, a vining morning glory that entwines and chokes plants, and has roots that grow down to 30 feet. I know this weed well, it’s impossible to get rid of organically. “So,” Corey says, “we just work with it.” That means lots of weeding labor.

Corey switches to his most favorite crop: chilies. We walk past thousands of baby pepper plants recently transplanted into the field. Corey says, “They look like hell for a few weeks, till it gets really hot. They love the heat. Then they perk up.” Corey absolutely loves hot peppers, declaring, “I personally believe the flavor of chilies comes with heat.”

Whipstone became the original keystone farm when the Prescott Farmers Market opened in 1997, and it’s made everything easier for Corey. His advice to new farmers is to start small and build slowly. Avoid the temptation to buy big — big equipment, big acreage, big loans — and stay out of debt. The Farmers Market is great support for all new local food businesses, especially farms. It has greatly helped bring local agriculture back to the Prescott community following its decline in ‘80s and ‘90s.

Corey and Shanti Rade have led that revival, encouraging and teaching new farmers, offering farm tours, hosting school trips, donating vegetables to hundreds of events, raising public consciousness about the value of local food and providing us all with great-tasting vegetables, melons, salad greens and stunningly beautiful, long-lasting flowers.

I ask Corey what he sees as his biggest success: “Surviving,” he responds, but then mentions chili peppers and beautiful flowers, which are Shanti’s passion and a key part of the farm. Then Corey brings up his melons, how he feeds and waters them and carefully selects only the sweetest for sale. They cost more, but Corey loves to hear, “‘This is the best dang melon I have ever eaten!’ That’s where I get my strokes.”

You’ll find Corey and Shanti at the Prescott Farmers Market on Saturdays, 7:30am-noon at 900 Iron Springs Rd, or during the week at the Whipstone Farm Stand, 21640 N. Juniper Ridge Rd in Paulden. Whipstone also offers CSA shares for vegetables and flowers on a subscription basis; more information at whipstone.com.

Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's leading creative food activist and teacher. Photos by Gary Beverly.