A big red-roofed barn decorated for the holiday season greets visitors on Baseline Road in Lafayette at Thomas Open Space. A vintage turquoise pickup truck is parked out front, against 14 acres of farmland stretching off in the distance.
This is Isabelle Farm Store. For the past decade, it’s where many in Boulder County and beyond have come for a wide variety of local flavors — organic produce grown on and off site, meat and dairy products, art and more.
The scene here feels timeless, but its days are numbered. In 2022, Isabelle Farm will no longer operate at the picturesque barn on the city’s open space as it has since 2012.
Owners Natalie and Jason Condon decided not to renew the lease for the barn or the accompanying farmland. Natalie says challenges posed by Covid protocols and new state agricultural regulations were partly to blame for the closure, but she says federal assistance and local funding kept them from shutting their doors earlier.
“I really want to credit PPP and the local grants from Boulder, Lafayette and the County for making it possible to keep our employees employed, our community fed, our commitments upheld and our farm afloat,” she said.
But in a letter announcing the closure to customers and the community at large, Condon said she would no longer be able to execute the mission of Isabelle Farm in the current agricultural business climate. “In short, our business model — growing and offering wholesome, local food at the most affordable prices we can with a strong commitment to building community and outreach — isn’t viable anymore in the way that we’re committed to doing it.”
On Dec.19, local customers rolled into the dirt parking lot to collect their online orders and browse Isabelle Farm Store — at least, the one they’ve come to know — for the last time.
From seed to harvest: farm beginnings to what’s next
The land that would become Thomas Open Space was purchased by the City of Lafayette in 2002. The sale was pushed by a resident-led initiative to replace a pending housing development.
By 2007, after another grassroots effort led to voter approval of a city amendment to allow a private farm operator to lease the land, the idea of developing the acreage into a 14-acre organic farm had come to fruition. But the farm’s first lessee and operator, Abbondanza Organic Seeds & Produce, forfeited the lease after farming the land for just over a year.
In came Isabelle Farm. Since taking over the lease in 2009, the family-run, certified USDA organic farm has operated here and farmed the acreage allotted to growing organic vegetables. Condon said when Isabelle Farm began operations at the open space, they ran the farm store out of a big tent. It would be a few years before the barn community members know and love would be built.
Barn construction finished in 2012, and Isabelle Farm began conducting their retail operations inside. The structure also served as a community space for events and gatherings, including summer camps and educational programs. Condon said those extra touches of community gave people more of an appreciation for their place in the food system.
“I think that connection, not just to food, but to nature and how things grow is a wonderful thing to be able to show,” she said.
But the journey of facilitating connections between people and their food is coming to an end here. In January, the City of Lafayette will put out a request for proposal in search of the next local organic farm who will operate the project at Thomas Open Space.
“Please jump right in to support the next farm in whatever they do and however they do it,” Condon encouraged customers in her farewell letter.
Cover crops and garlic are planted for Isabelle Farm’s successors, but time is of the essence. Condon says crops like carrots, arugula and spinach need to be in the ground by early spring to be ready in time for community shared agriculture (CSA) and farmer’s market seasons.
During the same month in which the city will begin its search for the next farm operator, Isabelle Farm Store will start selling their antiques, furniture and other equipment to pay off the Economic Injury Disaster Loan that helped their business through the pandemic.
In her farewell letter, Condon wrote: “The appreciation and support we’ve felt from you all have made the work of growing organic veggies and running a small local business soulful and rewarding on levels that sustained our will to keep on keeping on.”
While the Condons will no longer lease Thomas Open Space from the City of Lafayette, they will continue to farm more than 400 acres of land in southeast Boulder County, growing rotations of hay, wheat, corn and more, along with perennial crops like asparagus, and pasturing cattle for Van Thuyne Farms. They own some of the land, and lease the rest from Boulder County and the City of Boulder.
A community sendoff
Customers and friends of Natalie Condon zoomed in and out of the farm store during the last open weekend — sharing memories, hugs, laughter and a few tears.
Lafayette local Alexis Bullen is a longtime frequent shopper who conducted a regular food swap at the farm with the Mile High Swappers, a group of local farmers, gardeners and chefs who meet regularly to trade food and other self-prepared goods. Bullen is open to the innovation a new lessee might bring, but she hopes they will honor Isabelle Farm’s commitment to making local organic food more accessible in the community.
“They were just really the center of Lafayette and everything it stood for,” Bullen said. “We hope the city will pass it along to someone else with similar vision who can put some energy behind it.”
Elizabeth Deland, another longtime customer and Lafayette resident, offered a simple observation about what she’ll miss about this iteration of Isabelle Farm Store.
“I’m going to miss the people. I’m going to miss the food,” she said.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated that the Condons grow rotations of crops for Van Thuyne Farms. The Condons grow and sell their crops independently. As part of their rotations, they pasture cattle for Van Thuyne Farms.