Keeping a Farm a Farm

I spotted one again last week, a subdivision with “farm” in its name. Land that used to grow food is now covered with beige houses. I don’t know whether to take offense at the irony of a housing development named after a farm or take comfort that the name evokes its farming past. Once farmland is developed, it won’t be farmed again. That loss affects all of us, not only in the lack of food raised locally, but in the demise of natural habitats for plants and animals. Harder to measure is the degradation of the human spirit as the natural world vanishes from our collective imagination.

The development pressure in our part of the Front Range is intense. More people moving to the area means more homes, more strip malls, more big box stores, more light industrial, and more businesses to assure jobs for the people who move here. And that kind of growth takes land.

At the same time, farming today is a shaky enterprise at best. Costs are going up, the weather is less predictable, yet the physical labor required to farm is still demanding. I don’t know what the figures are in Boulder County, but farmland along the Hwy 66 corridor where we live is disappearing. Older farmers have counted on selling their land to pay for their retirement and who can blame them? But it’s terrible that farms are rarely sold as farms anymore.

At least in Boulder, the county itself is interested in preserving farms and has purchased thousands of acres as agricultural open space. We disagree with the county over the use of GMO crops on that land, but we are glad the county is far-sighted enough to create a new “rural preservation” designation under which our farm now falls.  That means the land can’t be developed for industrial or commercial purposes, at least for the next 10 years and hopefully beyond.

John and I are still in our fifties and plan to farm for many years to come. But we are starting to take steps to ensure that Stonebridge Farm remains a real farm—not a housing development called “Stonebridge Farm.” We’re working with our local officials to foresee and guarantee options down the road. And we have a grandchild on the way who may—we hope–want to farm some day. Still, we know that we are the ones who have to preserve Stonebridge now if the farm is to survive. It’s sad to think we won’t be here forever, but even sadder would be the loss of this land to asphalt and concrete.

In the meantime, we’re farming. Our amazing crew transplanted 10,000+ baby alliums—leeks and onions the size of a blade of grass—last Saturday. That’s the first big push for the farm.

Over the next two Saturdays, we’ll plant thousands of brassicas—cabbage, broccoli, and cauliflower—now hardening off in the cold frame. That’s the second.

The third—tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, and basil–won’t come until June 1st or so when the soil warms and all chance of frost is past. Last week John started the peppers and eggplant in the greenhouse and today we seeded 18 heirloom varieties of tomatoes, including Stonebridge’s favorites—Brandywine and Tiffen Mennonite. As always, we’re trying a couple new varieties, Black Prince to complement Cherokee Purple and Mr. Fumo, a paste tomato that earned raves with Boulder’s culinary gardeners last year.

Every spring for the last 21 years, we’ve started seeds in the greenhouse and transplanted them into the fields. With the help of our wonderful friends, we’ve watered and weeded and waited and harvested. And with the support of a loyal community that understands the importance of local agriculture, we make it through another season.  Preservation requires actions taken each day, one after the other. Only that kind of care and commitment will keep Stonebridge from becoming another subdivision with “farm” in its name.

Newly planted allium field in the shadow of the Two Guides, Longs and Meeker peaks. We think this is worth preserving.

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4 Comments

Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

4 responses to “Keeping a Farm a Farm

  1. Lorna Yoder

    I have seen many “farm” communities in our travels…most of the have very large houses on them. Disturbing to say the least.

  2. johnmmartin

    Thinking about housing developments makes me more tolerant of the farm museum down the road. At least it could be quickly returned to farming – good point.

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