The Sopris Sun

Slow is the New Fast: For the love of local farms

By Gwen Garcelon

You may have heard there’s an additional polo field going in near the existing one at the Catherine Store intersection. What you might not know is that we’re losing a productive local farm in the process.  Why should you care?

In this time on the planet, with so much uncertainty about the future coming at us, we do know that we will need to eat. And we will need to grow MUCH more of our food locally as our global food supply is increasingly vulnerable to climate impacts.

For instance, currently half the produce we eat is grown in California. As drought, fires, and sea level rise continue to compromise that supply we will have to look to other sources — and closer to home, to avoid upsets in transportation and increasing transportation costs.

Every farm that exists in our valley is profoundly precious. Not only is it challenging to grow food at this altitude, but add to that the pressures of housing, land access, and all the ways we each need to get creative to make our lives work in this valley, and it’s truly a miracle when you see small agricultural operations up and running.

A farm is a unique kind of small business. It can take years to build the soil to where it is highly productive and weed resilient, and to understand how the sun and water and elements affect the plants on a given piece of land. The farmer’s relationship to the land, like any relationship, is built over time. Every year invested in that relationship is crucial to its long-term success. And it can take several years before a farmer hones the operation to the point of creating profit.

So, after three years of building the farm at Roaring Gardens, knowing the land and how it responds to a multitude of inputs, the young people who have stewarded that land into a successful CSA business (Community Supported Agriculture – where consumers buy a “share” of the operation and in return get regular distributions of nutritious local produce) are being asked to leave so that an additional polo field can take their place. They are growing five tons of vegetables annually.

Sure, they might be able to find another place to grow vegetables, but at some point (very soon) we are going to have to ask ourselves how much we can ask of these young people. Can we ask them to “hang in there” in the face of 12-hour days with no healthcare and no profit, AND, guess what — you also have to start over from scratch?

We often say that our youth are our future. But in a more real way than ever before on the planet, the young people who are figuring out how to grow food in this valley, in the chaos of these times, hold our future in their hands. We need to protect and nurture their efforts. They are pioneering the food system that will allow us to access healthy food as the fragile global system we currently depend on begins to collapse.

The farms of the North Fork Valley (Paonia) and other more agriculturally rich parts of the state will not be enough to feed the increasing population in our state. We need to support and protect our existing local farms, create many more, and grow in our own backyards wherever possible.

To the young farmers at Roaring Gardens – thank you. Thank you for your commitment, for your blood, sweat and tears, and for the bounty you have grown and made available to us over the years. Thank you for the produce you are supplying to the Farm Rx program this fall, so that low-income parents and children will learn how to cook and eat your locally grown veggies, and connect to the land more powerfully. May all the gifts you have offered come back to you a thousand-fold.

And to the community members whose pooled efforts were a day short of buying that land – thank you. May your beautiful vision of an educational farm, and highly productive and multi-use agricultural operation still come to pass. May we all continue to stand up for the farms in this valley, or wherever we have the power to protect local agriculture.