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Beacon Senior News

Fewer farms and farmers - why seniors should team up with the young

Aug 30, 2022 12:16PM ● By Audrey Paugh

Land is the one ground that holds us all in common. It is the backbone to the food we eat, our daily activities and the places we call home.

Between 2001 and 2016, over 11 million acres of agricultural land in the United States have been taken out of agricultural use, according to American Farmland Trust. At the same time, the price of farmland has steadily increased from the 1980s onward, with costs per acre more than doubling between 2000 and 2015. The factors that have influenced agricultural land loss and value appreciation are multi-faceted, including land being converted to residential housing, urban development and influxes of wealth.

“There are lots of young people who would make wonderful farmers and are willing to do the hard work but can’t afford the land,” said Diana Wilson, who’s lived in Montrose since 1972. “Then there’s this other side of it where the land is not affordable because it’s being sold.” 

Colorado’s western slope is well known for its agricultural heritage, with Montrose County showcasing 330,523 acres of land in farms that contribute to over $81 million in products sold at market value, according to 2017 Census of Agriculture.

Yet as agricultural land becomes increasingly harder to access, “there’s going to be less and less farmland and less and less ability for this valley to feed itself,” Wilson warned.


GROWING COOPERATIVELY

With land being essential to food production, these patterns weigh heavily in the agricultural realm, as accessing land becomes a greater barrier for the incoming generation of aspiring farmers and ranchers.

Regarding the future of land access, Reese Lovell of Eagle Land Brokerage in Montrose foresees a shift toward land sharing.

“We’re going to see a transition into shared ownership—where it’s not one big individual that owns it all and controls it. It’s going to be more about a collective of people that all own a property together,” said Lovell.

“Agri-hoods” come in many forms, with the common feature of integrating residential housing with agriculture.

“It’s through people that you’re able to get connected to the land...so building those connections upon honesty and being genuine will get you a long way,” said Lovell.

Samantha Wynne, co-founder of Freshies Farms, affirms this as she traces how her journey into organic agriculture took root, starting with Mike from PeteDog Produce in the Shavano Valley.

“I showed up at his farm—it was totally overgrown, he was frustrated and told me he didn’t need help with marketing because his labor had quit,” she said.

However, she managed to sift through the weeds and joined him as field labor, learning the ways of organic agriculture over time. Yet, when the farm was inevitably sold, she was at a loss. Buying land on her own with her family in Montrose was not in the cards.

Wynne and her partner had been working on updating the wiring on an old farmhouse when Steve Hale with Western Heritage Farms, who she initially met at the Montrose Farmers Market, proposed a generous offer: Grow cooperatively together, sharing the land his family has as fifth-generation ranchers.

“Normally, farming is pretty siloed and you are very independent, but now it’s all hands on deck,” said Wynne.


LEARNING FROM EACH OTHER

While some of it may sound too good to be true, it’s clear that with the time and dedication Wynne has been able to pour into her work and relationships, it’s all been well worth the effort.

“We’ve been able to bring such different values, beliefs and lifestyles together because we have a common purpose: bringing the best nutrient-dense food to our community,” said Wynne. 

This perseverance and dedication can be seen by other new farmers in the valley, such as Caleb Valdez and Brittany Duffy of Uncompahgre Farms, who similar to Wynne, are participants in Valley Food Partnership’s beginning farmer/rancher program.

Much of their success has blossomed without land ownership at all. Instead, they consistently lease land throughout the seasons.

“There’s not enough hours in a day if you are spread out too far,” warned Scott Freeman, an experienced Montrose County dairy farmer. He stressed the importance of farmers living on the same land that they run, as “the more intimately connected to the land [you are], the more successful.”

While leasing land may not be a long-term solution for some farms, it’s certainly a testament to their commitment to the land and the community.

JOIN THE CONVERSATION

If you or someone you know has land that you’d like to see nourished by the rising generation of farmers and ranchers, contact [email protected] or call 970-249-0705 to learn more.

Free webinar on zoom

Sunday, September 18, 2022 • 3-4:30 p.m.

Join Valley Food Partnership’s Cultivating Famers & Ranchers That Thrive (CFRT) project to learn how Guidestone’s Landlink program supports landowners and land seekers. Preregister at www.valleyfoodpartnership.org/upcomingevents

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the lands we’re on, visit the Ute Indian Museum or listen to the “Local Motion: Ute Ethnobotany Garden and Land Stewardship” podcast episode at: www.kvnf.org/show/local-motion