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Parents' job on a Colorado Springs-area farm turns into kids playground

July 14, 2017 Updated: July 14, 2017 at 3:18 pm
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The Ward family picks peas to take to the Manitou Community Market. Ben Ward and his wife, Leticia, pick the peas while Tacitus, Caius, and Trajan (children, right to left) have a veggie snack right off the plant. Wednesday, July 5, 2017. (Photo by Jerilee Bennett, The Gazette)

Caius Ward, a 5-year-old named for a famous Roman emperor, points a stick at a cluster of sheep. The ewes are apathetic, munching on the remains of the spinach patch and eyeing the boy.

He inches closer, stick poised to duel. Lizzie the sheep stares him down and bleats.

"Leave them alone," says Caius' mom, Leticia. "They don't want to play."

Caius and brothers Tacitus, 7, and Trajan, 3, are the little Romans of Little Roman Farm.

Benjamin and Leticia Ward started the 5-acre organic farm in 2014 just inside Fountain city limits.

In lieu of legions and mercenaries, the boys reign supreme over a few sheep and quail. They command chickens, ducks and occasionally the dog. They try to help with the farmwork - Tacitus helps deliver lambs - but the property is mostly their empire and playground.

"Everything we do is for the boys," Benjamin says.

The couple met in high school, went to Oregon State University and joined the Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps before being commissioned into the Army after graduation. They were stationed at Fort Carson and made Colorado their permanent home.

Benjamin says they bought the acreage because he wanted a big garden. Not until a 2014 deployment to Bahrain in the Persian Gulf did he think it could be something more.

"He's the dreamer; he's the schemer," Leticia says in their dining room. "Hey, that's a good line."

"I don't think that line is in that song," Benjamin says.

Leticia stopped working after their second child was born to stay home with the boys. She homeschools Tacitus and tries to balance motherhood and farming.

The Wards have a few rental properties, business investments and weekends with the Reserves to help pay the bills.

"It's rare in small farming to have an operation be the only source of income," Benjamin says. "In that way, we are definitely in line with the national trend of having jobs other than the farm."

They grow more than 50 kinds of vegetables, plus eggs and meat products. They're still working out their niche, but one thing is certain: They won't use pesticides or harmful fertilizers. It's an approach they call "beyond organic."

"We meet the organic standards, then we go a step further," Benjamin says.

The animals provide natural fertilizer, and the Wards brought in ladybugs, praying mantises and lacewings to combat harmful insects. They pull weeds by hand or let the sheep graze patches clean.

The boys demonstrate how to pull weeds, plucking green leaves out of the ground and leaving the roots buried. Leticia smiles and shakes her head.

"They try to help," she says. "But sometimes it makes things more difficult."

Rearing three boys under age 10 is hard enough without having to explain why their animals sometimes die, but the boys handle it in stride.

"Hey Tac," Leticia says. "What do we do with the boy quail?"

He opens his mouth, making chewing noises.

Growing a farm in city limits presents its own challenges. Regulations and zoning ordinances limit how many and what kind of animals they can have. More than once, the Wards worked with the city to change rules, such as increasing the number of chickens that can be kept.

They hope their work will be worth it. They want to provide for their family and community and pave the way for other small farms in the area.

Leticia wades through rows of plants to pick carrots for the boys. They're round and speckled with dirt.

"Go wash these first," she says.

Moments later, Tacitus and Trajan are munching away. Caius snaps the greens off the top of his carrot and tosses it toward the sheep, a truce.

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