If you are going to
What: Boulder County Agriculture Awareness Open House
When: 5:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday 18 January
Or: Ron Stewart Parks and Open Space Administration Building
5201 Saint-Vrain Road, Longmont
Program: 5:30 p.m. to 6:10 p.m. – Informal presentation, opportunity to review documents, provide feedback and speak with staff
6:15-7:00 p.m. – Lively group discussion
7:00-7:30 p.m. – Extra time to talk with staff or others in the room and to comment on information boards
More information: bouldercounty.org/property-and-land/land-use/agriculture-outreach-project
Boulder County is engaging the public on how to help farmers, and for the first time in a few years, the discussion is not GMO-centric. Still, the process is stirring passions within the region’s farming community.
County Land Use staff started the Farm Awareness Project after hearing from farmers that the document governing what can and cannot be done on farmland in unincorporated Boulder County needed to be refreshed. The latest changes to the agricultural guidelines were made in March 2013, according to Richard Hackett, communications specialist with the Boulder County Department of Land Use.
“Even since then there have been a lot of changes in farming,” Hackett said.
Nearly 100 comments were recorded in an online survey covering six topics, and the county is hosting an open house Thursday evening to address the most pressing concerns. Public comment will continue after the meeting, and implementing any changes is “months and months away,” Hackett said.
Farmers, ranchers and other producers have faced many challenges in recent years. Conventional farmers are considering a transition away from GM crops on leased open spaces with no roadmap from the regulatory bodies that govern them; organic farmers have been plagued by high failure rates.
Farm income is down nationwide, and many local farmers say Boulder County regulations prohibit practices that would provide alternative sources of income, including agritourism and direct-to-consumer sales. Land use codes currently limit the number of events allowed on a farm in any given year, and selling a farm’s produce often requires additional licensing and processing.
“They need to start looking at what other tools they can give us,” said Scott Miller of Rock Creek Farm. “There are only so many types of crops we can grow here.”
Miller said most changes to the land use code would benefit market farmers rather than commodity farmers like himself. But there were changes that could make operations easier, like relaxing regulations on adding structures or opening processing facilities so produce can stay close to home.
Wyatt Barnes of Red Wagon Organic Farm agreed: “We need barns for equipment, we need washing areas for produce, we need greenhouses. It’s this incredible, visionary program,” but the county has “not kept pace with what we need at all.”
Another hot topic is the possibility of allowing on-farm accommodation, which would make it easier to attract labor – something farmers say has become increasingly difficult as the economy and local real estate markets continued their upward march.
“The labor issue (is) absolutely a huge barrier,” said Paul Schlagel, a Longmont-area sugar beet grower. “Unaffordable housing, low unemployment and competition from other businesses make labor nearly impossible” to find and keep.
Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article did not note that the land use changes will apply to all unincorporated, private, or county-owned Boulder County farmland.