Poudre Valley Community Farms (PVCF) has been pursuing a particular piece of farmland for the last two years. We have been preparing for and investing in organic certification on that property for over a year and in February 2017, we went under contract for purchase.
In January 2017, a concrete batch plant was proposed on a property just west of the farmland that PVCF was under contract to purchase. Over the past couple of months, it has become increasingly clear that this concrete batch plant could pose a threat to our goal of making this a thriving organic vegetable farm. The potential impacts of dust on the plants (resulting in reduced photosynthesis and lower yields) and adverse impacts to farmers’ health alone may be enough to eventually make this farmland less suitable for food production. The outcome of the concrete batch plant application, the public process, and any legal action that may follow will not be known for many months. Given the significant unknowns and risk to the future of our project, the Board and our project partners – Colorado Open Lands and Larimer County Open Lands – mutually decided in late April to terminate the contract to purchase this farmland.
On the surface, this appears to be a huge setback, and there is no doubt that this will significantly impact PVCF’s timeline for acquiring farmland for long-term lease to our first farmers, Native Hill Farm. We will lose at least two years (last growing season and this one) toward the eventual organic certification of a property and the ramp-up of food production that was planned. However, all is not lost.
Much of the work we’ve done over the past two years will be applicable to another property. We will leverage our partnerships, conservation easement funding support and PVCF’s capital to seek out and purchase a new piece of farmland. While finding another suitable farmland property is time-consuming and by no means guaranteed, this course of action allows PVCF to focus its resources and time on finding a property that is much more likely to fulfill the Cooperative’s mission.
Thank you to all of our Members for their patience and dedication to the vision. And thank you to all the interested folks out there that have contacted us with well wishes and support as we continue to move forward.
The USDA recently released the 2014 Tenure, Ownership, and Transition of Agricultural Land (TOTAL) survey and Southern Farm Press has a good summary. Highlights include the news that 11% of farmland in the West will transition in the next five years and that it is difficult for new farmers to gain access to this land.
From the article:
“Access to land is one of the biggest challenges facing agricultural producers, particularly beginning farmers,” said Mary Bohman, ERS Administrator. “TOTAL gives us a chance to demonstrate the extent of the land access issue and provide realistic projections of future land availability for purchase or for rent.”
Here on Colorado’s Front Range, development is the primary pressure driving up land prices and challenging our young farmers who desire to work here. However, development isn’t the only challenge faced by food farms seeking affordable access to land. Investors speculating on a return from rising land prices are purchasing farmland in the U.S. and around the world at an increasing rate. While a handful of these investment companies, such as Iroquois Valley Farms and Farmland LP, prioritize the sustainability of the farm and the food it produces over immediate profits – though they are still making good returns – most of these investment companies seek profit at the expense of the farmer and our food. The article Buying the Farm provides a great overview of these investment pressures and the alternatives offered by the more progressive investment firms.
Poudre Valley Community Farms offers a model for community ownership of farmland – through the power of cooperative member-ownership – that allows those of us who are not accredited investors to play a role in preserving access for the farmers and ranchers of our local food economy.
He’s [Harold Wilkens and son – farmers] not talking about profit; the Wilkens, father and son, are making money. He’s talking about time and the condition of the soil, environmental impacts, and the quality of the food he provides to human beings. Harold needs an investor that will put him on land he’ll never have to leave, and not force him to “mine” it—his term—for the sake of predictable profits.
The Coloradoan recently covered the explosion of new housing development in Northern Colorado on lands formerly used for farming. This article tells the story of the development pressures that will make farmland increasingly hard to find and afford for farmers and ranchers wanting to be a part of our local food economy. From the story:
Ronald Ruff (former rancher) has watched farms in southeast Fort Collins switch from growing hay and corn to a new, more lucrative crop.