Hiking a particularly steep trail from the valley floor, you can face east to gain a spectacular view of Mount Sopris, river to peak. And there, towards the lower left, lies a vision from the pages of a children’s storybook: a green jewel in the wilds.
“I grew up here,” says third-generation land steward, Mollie Shipman.
Looking more closely where three ridges descend from Sopris, you can see where they pool into verdant meadows. Thickets of oak, pinyon and juniper trace their way from the forest’s edge. A handful of homes and outbuildings are laced together by curving dirt roads. A pond gleams, cool and dark; three shades of aqua in the early summer light – all of it kissing the banks of a sparkling river. Dooley Creek Farm is downright dreamy.
“We always had animals of some kind, just hobby farming,” Shipman reminisces as we visit with the next batch of chicks. “I love animals and plants and growing things.”
After a few years in college, a degree in nutrition, and the start of a career, Shipman and her husband Jake decided to “do it,” to create a regenerative ranch, raising nutrient-dense, wholesome meat on land that has been in the family for four generations.
Dooley Creek was first homesteaded by James Dooley at the turn of the century. In 1949, Mollie’s grandparents bought the land. Their ranch revisits a time when farms were still run by multi-generational families. Traversing the dirt road through open stretches and tunnels of oak, evidence of a slower, more intentional life arises: a small sprinkler tossing Crystal River water. An old-fashioned flower bed, vegetable garden; a tiny greenhouse. Even the projects in progress are tidy and well-tended.
“I really have a lot of respect for my dad,” Mollie says, over the cacophony of baby chicks. “He doesn’t preach land stewardship, he lives it. He modeled that every single day of his life and I was able to watch, growing up. He knows where every patch of hound’s tongue is on the place. And this plant and that plant, and where this seep is, and that tree, and where this type of bird likes to be, and he knows it and takes care of it respectfully.”
“Jake grew up in New Mexico on a conventional farm, so he was familiar with [farm life]. But he’s most interested in all of this regenerative stuff,” Mollie explains. “My dad, way back when, had started reading about Joel Salatin and his rotational grazing methods, so I was familiar with his work. He developed a lot of the prototypes for regenerative farming and has written a lot. Jake and I started watching YouTube videos on his methods and reading. We found more resources. We just figure it out. Trial and error.”
On the ground, Dooley feels just as idyllic as the view from a distance. After visiting with the chicks, we hop an electric fence to visit the new, voluminous, open-ended rolling henhouse that Jake built this spring. Modeled off of Salatin’s plans, Jake modified it, of course – all a part of “regenerative” – and the hens are happy. They forage on not just grass but a variety of clovers, dandelions, vetch and forbes – and every sorry insect in sight.
The henhouse moves every few days, reinvigorating pasture and depositing shi– compost, that is.
“Happy” pigs are their tillers and turners of soil. Mating, birthing, feeding and living on their own rhythms, cattle also contribute to the iterative loop. Closer to the river, meat birds roll across the pasture in hand-built runs, feed and waste – again – part of regenerative ranching.
For the first time ever, Dooley has summer interns. Young, earnest, living a summer with land and animals, they’re on the adventures of a lifetime.
As such, Mollie and Jake are able to dedicate time to other areas of life that need sustenance now: home schooling their three boys and navigating the business end of ranching. Mollie claims she struggles with marketing, PR and social media. Developing new business models and products are ongoing. They launched a meat CSA this year, for approximately 24 shares, and have sold almost all of them already..
“The regulations [are] the biggest hurdle, trying to figure out what we can and can’t do. Meat is a whole new level; eggs are in their own category under the Cottage law,” she says. “It’s hard to find consistent information, too – Jake has read through so many websites and pages of regulations trying to figure it out. We try the best we can.”
So why do all of this?
Shipman answers contemplatively in her mountain girl drawl.
“What we find attractive about regenerative farming is it mimics nature’s symbiotic relationships and cycles. It’s a mentality of abundance and healing, and more fertility, more fruitfulness – versus this kind of extractive limited resource mentality: we just need to ‘go out and conquer,’ plow up the ground,” she chuckles, “and squeeze every last drop of food and meat out of it that we can get! We like the concept of stewarding the land so that it can restore itself and rejuvenate and then produce even more. It’s an ideology of abundance, rather than scarcity.”
Face alight, Mollie describes their life with the land.
“God created this. He’s wise and He knew what He was doing. He didn’t just slap things together, He made it work beautifully. And when we come into that, and realize that and work with it, then we can enjoy it, too.”