The Den Farm -- and a new greenhouse -- gets ready to sprout
Owning a farm, says Yasu Kizaki, was always a dream for him and his brother, Toshi, the owners of two Japanese restaurants on South Pearl Street: Sushi Den and Izakaya Den. "Our parents were farmers," Yasu recounts. "It's been a vision for a long time, but it's hard work."
The Den Farm greenhouse is nearly complete.
Dreams became reality last year, when the siblings bought a farm in Brighton where hoped to produce vegetables to supplement their imported fish. To help, they called on Nobi Sakai, a sushi chef turned farmer, and Howard Ochsner, a former Coors beer-tester who'd managed the Den Farm property under its previous owners.
The group quickly set to work tilling the fields, and last year, the farm provided many vegetables for specials at the restaurants, with chefs planning menus around the fresh ingredients. But the Kizaki brothers also wanted to give chefs and restaurant employees a reason to gather at the farm, and so they created other enticing reasons to come to Brighton. "Toshi's vision was to make it more than just a farm -- this is a community," says Ellen Marchman, who does public relations for the restaurants. Last summer, she recalls, several employees made the trip up to treat their kids to an afternoon playing with the goats, which are just on the grounds for petting purposes, or to chase around the chickens, which are just there to lay eggs.
But last summer the brothers also hatched an idea to cull more produce from the grounds year-round, and in November, the farm broke ground on a greenhouse that will revolutionize what the property can grow for the restaurants.
This is no ordinary greenhouse. "The main problem with greenhouse design is glass," Sakai explains. "It really only works in one season, and it needs a supplemental energy source to warm it in the winter and cool it in the summer. We built a passive solar green house. There's no natural gas source necessary. We use just enough to run a fan." That cuts down costs: "If this were glass, we couldn't afford it," Yasu points out.
The farmers worked with Synergistic Building Technologies, a Boulder-based builder focused on energy efficiency, to design the space, a sealed-off building with glass windows that uses a fan to cycle air underground -- heating it in the winter and cooling it in the summer -- in order to maintain a constant temperature and humidity in the space year-round. Before working on the Den project, that company also built a prototypical greenhouse for Cure Organic Farm and had great results: Temperatures in Boulder dropped to -18° F last winter, but the temperature inside the greenhouse never dropped below 50°; Ochsner says this one may never get below 60°.