CAINEVILLE, Utah (ABC4) – There’s not much going on in the area just outside of Capitol Reef National Park in Southern Utah. While the sights along Route 24 are gorgeous and lined with towering rock formations and plateaus colored in shades of gray, red, and orange, there isn’t much else to see that would prompt a traveler to take a detour on their way to or from exploring the iconic park.
Except of course, for the humble little building near mile marker 102 that serves as the storefront and dining area for Mesa Farm Market. You can’t miss it, it’s painted a very distinct shade of purple, a color that the late wife of the owner, Randy Ramsley chose over 20 years ago.
“Deborah liked purple and the guy had some purple paint, so I said alright, we’ll do that,” Ramsley recalls. “Purple just kinda stands out with the land around it. It looks great.”
Although it may seem like just a cutesy, side-of-the-road, kitschy kind of thing, the purple building on the farm Ramsley built in the middle of an area with little modern conveniences has become one of the most beloved small treasures in the state.
The small and charming farm, adorned with hand-painted signs has become a must-stop place for many visitors on their way to and from red rock country.
“Anybody leaving Capitol Reef and heading for Moab, or leaving Moab heading for Capitol Reef will pretty much pass by my store,” Ramsley explains. “So you know, location, location, location.”
Ramsley feels he’s in prime real estate for anyone looking to connect with nature but laughs when explaining he bought the land “because it was cheap,” when he moved down to Caineville from Salt Lake City 23 years ago. What really put Mesa Farms on the map, however, was an unexpected pipeline from overseas tourists.
After being placed in a popular European guidebook to the United States, Mesa Farms became a hit with foreign visitors out to see the Big 5 national parks in Southern Utah.
“They listed me as a very good place to stop for good coffee and fresh vegetables. And then I was also baking bread, and then later making cheese, so 70% of my business was probably European-based in the beginning,” Ramsley explains.
It was one day when Ramsley was serving a group of French travelers that he found his real niche: goat cheese.
“They really liked the cheese, they said that it reminded them of their grandmother’s cheese and I thought well if I can please a French tourist I can certainly make cheese,” he recalls.
After gathering the proper dairy licenses – Ramsley jokingly refers to his early product as “illegal cheese” – and building his herd of goats to around 60, he ramped up his cheese production. The problem was however, he lacked the resources to properly age the cheese in the unforgiving dry climate he lived in.
Matt Caputo, who owns Caputo’s Market and Deli in downtown Salt Lake, had tried Ramsley’s cheese and knew there was potential, despite the fact that it was dehydrated and ill-suited for its environment. He explains that when he tasted the cheese, he could “taste the place,” and was reminded of his visits to Capitol Reef.
After reaching out to Ramsley, Caputo was impressed and moved at his sustainable methods of farming and food production and offered a deal; Ramsley would send the cheese up to Caputo’s on the day it was made, and the market would do the aging for him, paying the money upfront.
The arrangement has been terrific for both sides, they say.
“We put it in our cave and it bloomed beautifully,” Caputo says of the now-legal cheese from Mesa Farms, which has become a favorite with his customers.
“Matt has done amazing things to promote our cheese and support the farm, allowing us to really maintain even through COVID,” says Ramsley. “They bought as much product as I needed to sell them. It’s an ongoing thing and I’m just a lucky person.”
Even though Ramsley feels he is the benefactor of the relationship with Caputo, whose market and deli is one of the most popular eateries in the state’s biggest city, the larger-scale business owner says he gets the most of their relationship.
Every time he visits Mesa Farms, Caputo is moved to tears.
“At least once a year, I’m standing in either Randy’s kitchen or out on the farm, with tears streaming down my face and it’s really kind of a different reason each time,” he says.
Deeply passionate about sustainable agriculture, Caputo explains that his emotion usually comes from seeing the combination of humility, hard work, and love easily seen at Mesa Farms. Folks like Randy are hard to find, he says.
“I think that is just really rare to see someone care so deeply about something other than themselves, and other than money, and just truly invest in a piece of land and the right way of doing things,” Caputo shares. “When you experience it, it’s really humbling to know that there are people out there like that, and Randy is one of those people.”