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An ‘instant success’

Organic produce grower can't keep up with demand

Firefly Mountain Produce owner Christina Palaia has not been able to keep up with the demand for her organic produce since she started the business last year.
Matt Stensland

— Christina Palaia says she has learned to not always listen to what people say, especially when it comes to produce.

When temperatures dropped to 30 degrees below zero this past winter, Palaia was still harvesting spinach growing under her plastic covered, unheated greenhouse 11 miles southwest of Steamboat Springs.

“I’m so amazed at what these plants can do,” Palaia said Thursday while cutting greens that will become part of the meals at local eateries and restaurants.



Palaia said nearly everyone told her starting an organic produce business in the extreme climate of Northwest Colorado was not the smartest business proposal.

She has proved her critics wrong. The demand for her products has outpaced what she can grow in her 21-by-42-foot greenhouse. Less than a year after Firefly Mountain Produce was established, she is ready to expand.



The idea behind starting the business was simple – “to grow local produce organically and naturally, with no synthetic chemicals,” Palaia said.

She had worked in greenhouses before and raised produce on her family’s farm in New Jersey. Her green thumb followed her to Steamboat when she moved here four years ago.

“That has always stayed with me, but I’ve never had the land to do it,” Palaia said.

Colorado State University extension agent CJ Mucklow was one of the few people who initially encouraged Palaia to give the business a try, she said.

“I had an idea and I thought it would work,” Palaia said.

She put out a survey to local businesses to gauge their interest in purchasing fresh produce.

“The response was ‘anything you grow, we’ll buy. We don’t care what the cost is,'” Palaia said.

She studied which crops would be the most productive and which products had the potential to be the most profitable.

She attended a semi-annual Next Steps small business start-up seminar taught by Colorado Mountain College and Steamboat SCORE volunteers. Steamboat SCORE volunteer Mike Forney coached Palaia on identifying start-up costs and deciding on pricing and distribution channels.

“She is a classic case of an entrepreneur who will be successful because she has taken the time to think it through,” Forney said Thursday. “We show the way and encourage and give feedback, but the work has to be done by the entrepreneur.”

SCORE is a national non-profit organization that offers advice to budding entrepreneurs.

Palaia said she has had help from a lot of people like Forney along the way.

She met Kathy Ciavarra, who sells eggs and other goods at the Steamboat Farmers Market. Ciavarra offered Palaia a place to put her greenhouse and access to a natural spring on Ciavarra’s property. Palaia installed a solar-powered pump to deliver water to the greenhouse 700 feet away.

Palaia spent the winter experimenting with how to grow produce in this climate, and she has been testing the market. By this time next year, she hopes to have two more greenhouses and is working toward meeting the local demand. Right now, she does not have enough space to supply a single restaurant entirely, she said.

Rebecca Pauvert owns the Epicurean at 825 Oak. She said she feels lucky that she crossed paths with Palaia and her mixed greens early on.

The restaurant uses the produce in their salads and entrees. Pauvert said the produce was an “instant success” with customers and she “thinks she’s going to be really successful.”

Nothing like the Firefly Mountain Produce is available in the area, Pauvert said.

“Every leaf has its own flavor and it’s so distinctive,” Pauvert said.

Firefly Mountain Produce can be contacted by e-mail at fireflyMtn@comcast.net.


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