Introducing Guidestone’s Land-Link Initiative

By: Allison A.

As many of you know, we have three key guiding mantras here at Guidestone:

• We connect people to the land and land to the people.
• We grow farmers.
• We support and revitalize our local food economy and food culture.

Over the last several months, the board and staff of Guidestone have been developing a new project that has the potential of significantly contributing to the fulfillment of all three of those mantras.

The agricultural lands of the Central Colorado Rockies are currently faced with substantial development pressure, water is being removed from the land and their rights are being sold to municipalities and corporations far away from their source. Many would-be young farmers and ranchers are moving to the city rather than choosing to take over the family farm while other would-like-to-be farmers and ranchers cannot afford or have no access to productive land. Our expectation is that this new project will provide a healthy alternative to all of those scenarios.

The Land-Link Initiative will work to connect retiring farmers and ranchers as well as absentee landowners with next generation farmers. The initiative will create a database that provides solutions to the challenges of access to farmland, security of tenure, long-term affordability and stewardship of the resources. Guidestone’s services will assist with crafting the lease and equitable agreements between the landowner and the farmer. These agreements provide economically viable options for landowners that keep the agricultural heritage and water on their land intact. In addition, this program will support beginning farmers through an educational curriculum with a strong emphasis in financial planning, marketing strategies, business plans, food policy, legal issues, and production techniques.

Currently, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union is providing technical assistance to Guidestone in procuring a USDA grant, which, if awarded, will provide initial funding for a land-link pilot program for Chaffee County. To meet the requirements of the grant, Guidestone must provide a $10,000 matching fund. A number of local organizations have already written letters of support of this project and many have pledged financial support in contribution to the matching fund. A list of these organizations can be found on our website.

Programs similar to this Land-Link Initiative are in place in twenty other states throughout the U.S. Already, Guidestone has received a number of applications to participate in the pilot program – both landowners and farmers. Our hope is that the Guidestone Land-Link Initiative will become a model project in Colorado and will later serve as a template for other regional or statewide land-link programs.

Bucking The Trend

By David Lynch

As a recent resident farmer to the central Colorado mountain community, it has become painfully clear the challenges of preserving the region’s agricultural resources for local food production. How quickly have valuable agricultural lands given way to sprawling development and high-end resorts. Sadly, as one travels the scenic I-70 corridor, it becomes clear that the rural character of yesteryear has virtually disappeared; from Vail to Gypsum is not an active farm operation to be found. Oh yes, ranching remains a tradition in these high mountain valleys, but the possibility of local food production is no longer an option. The development of river and creek bottom areas for luxury homes has removed the very soils that might have served these communities as a local food source. Likewise, the conversion of the age old water rights for municipal use, once attached to these farms, has further minimized the agricultural opportunities.

The Upper Arkansas Valley is one such region that potentially faces the same fate. Second homes dot the landscape. Resale values of ranch and farm lands are soaring; clearly such property is unaffordable for agricultural enterprise. Even now, poorly planned development projects threaten to gobble up what few productive soils that remain.

So what of food security? Not only does it suggest access to food, but also food quality. For this the health conscious consumer seeks fresh, organic and locally grown food products. To somehow imagine that the industrial food system will forever serve our needs is to believe a petroleum-based agriculture will always remain abundant. Our greatest chance to ensure food security is to take stalk of our opportunity to foster a local food system. This requires having local farmers, growing local food for the local community.

How do we buck the trend toward commercialization of local agricultural resources? It’s a community wide responsibility! The future cannot be relegated to the landowner, nor can land use be given to the hand of the developer. Comprehensive land planning must include a public vision for local food production just as it must for recreational and open space values. Policy must be put in place that guarantees inclusive zoning; when land is set aside for development, it should protect a portion of land for food production. Tax incentives are necessary to encourage landowners and developers alike to preserve the agricultural heritage of a given property. Additionally, we must seek the means to make land tenure affordable; passing the stewardship of farm land to next generation farmers must preserve the equity of the existing farmer while retaining the affordability of land for the purposes of local food production.

There are a growing number of examples where collaborative efforts have successfully preserved CSA (community supported agriculture) projects. The Rodale Institute posts an encouraging story of one such effort. Read about it here.

This is an endeavor to be taken up by all: by landowners and farmers, by land planners and public officials, by land trusts and conservation groups, by lawmakers and politicians, by churches and schools and public institutions that have access to local lands. A sustainable future is in our hands.

A first ever national conference to focus on land access, tenure and stewardship will be held in our own backyard, June 10-11, Denver, Colorado. Visit the announcement at: www.farmlasts.org/conference.

Protecting Our Soil From Development

Posted by: Allison A.

To me there is not much mystery as to why communities were often established near sources of water and fertile soils. For early settlers it was only logical to place a stake in the ground in a location where a life of hard work could be slightly eased by the relative convenience of locally available resources for growing food. I often think about this when I spend time in the park in Buena Vista and consider the role that Cottonwood Creek and the Arkansas River played in the life blood of our forefathers.

Unfortunately, a culture spoiled by cheap oil and grocery stores that feed us produce from the far reaches of the earth have detached us from first hand knowledge and appreciation for the resources required to fuel our bodies on a daily basis. Thus, those same resources which were so highly valued by pioneers from the past are today most often valued for their development potential in the world of real estate. Communities all across the west, including our own, are under tremendous development pressure due to impending population growth. And, so long as that development continues to be unguided, it is likely that the trend of converting rich agricultural soils into backyards and driveways will only continue to consume this irreplaceable resource.

I find it interesting and informative to learn from what other communities in the west are doing to overcome these same challenges that we face here in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. Here is a recent post on New West that we can certainly relate to. From Rooted In The Soil:

“Several factors make farm and ranchlands the most sought-after for these new developments. For starters, agricultural land is flat and well-drained, and hence is cheaper and easier to build upon.… Complex social and economic factors are at play too. Right now, agricultural lands are usually more affordable to developers than to farmers and ranchers. With development pressures pushing up land prices, new or expanding agriculturalists find it hard, if not impossible, to buy land and pay for it through agriculture, especially when economic returns are low.”

The article offers several solutions as to how a community can work together more to encourage and incentivize development on less fertile lands while at the same time working to revitalize a local farming culture. Strategies listed are: mitigation ordinances, TRDs (transfer of development rights), a linking service to match land owners with producers, and incubator farms. Two of those strategies are akin to the work that Guidestone is doing here in our valley.

The author, Neva Hassanein, closes by stating:

“We cannot predict the future — but we do know that people will have to eat and that food will be grown on soil. Our options are to protect our fertile soils here and now — with all of us, not just farmers, supporting the process…”

Important food for thought, indeed.