Tag Archives: Boulder

Still Winter

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Making no claims to poetry, here’s a piece I started in 2009 and found again a couple weeks ago. Given 70 degree temperatures and wildfires on the Front Range earlier in the week, it’s a relief to find February can still be winter.

 

Still Winter

Still winter

Nothing moves except

White breath across the sky.

No body

Disturbs the silence

Of sun in stasis

Refracting fragile light.

And still

The winter comes

Crowding spring

Delaying warmth

Despite the lengthening days.

Until the equinox

Tilts northward

The forecast is the same:

Still winter

And still the cold remains.

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Filed under ecobiography

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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Filed under ecobiography, memoir, sustainable agriculture

Gluten Free? Try GMO Free

[I wrote this letter for our local papers but want to share it with my readers first because many of you are interested in this topic and I’d love comments.]

My daughter needs a gluten-free diet so I’m used to checking labels and asking at restaurants about gluten-free options. But as an organic farmer in Boulder County, I’m also concerned about the future of our food safety now that GMOs are entering our diets. A recent study in Canada found the Bt gene in the bodies of pregnant women and their unborn babies. Since the women ate conventional diets, the Bt most likely came from corn genetically modified to contain the Bt pesticide. But because GMO foods aren’t even labeled, we’re not allowed to know whether these potential allergens are in the foods we eat, even if we try to avoid them.

In 2003, the Boulder County commissioners held a public meeting about allowing GM corn on leased county open space agricultural land. Speaking in favor of GMO crops, the State Secretary of Agriculture asked the commissioners not to “take away our tools.” When then-commissioner Paul Danish remarked to anti-GMO advocates that GM seeds were already in use so “we can’t be virgins,” organic farmer John Martin brought down the house with “We may not be virgins but we don’t have to be prostitutes.” Despite community concerns, the commissioners decided to allow GM corn on publicly owned land.

Now the county is trying to craft protocol about open space agricultural usage and the biggest debate surrounds more genetically modified crops—sugar beets most immediately—and the value of growing them in our county. On the pro-GMO side are some farmers and chemical agricultural interests like CSU and farm consultants who claim that GMOs increase yields, decrease pesticide use, and are the wave of the future for feeding an increasing world population.

On the anti-GMO side are environmentalists, organic farmers and businesses, and citizens concerned about public health. They argue that GM crops should not be allowed on publicly owned land because GMOS threaten organic agriculture, are predicated on evermore dangerous pesticides as weed resistance increases, and pose devastating risks to health through the introduction of potential allergens. Opponents also point to the terrible track records of chemical companies like Monsanto, the lack of peer-reviewed studies regarding problems to ecosystems and human health, and the inadequate governmental process for determining safety of these new types of organisms.

At a recent panel discussion of these issues, an agricultural consultant echoed the State Secretary of Agriculture by lamenting that government is “taking away our tools.” Yet the reason those tools were taken away is their toxicity. Take DDT: Scientists started raising questions about its horrible impact on natural systems in the 1940s, yet it wasn’t banned until 1972, ten years after Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring alerted the public to its dangers. Clearly, that “tool” wasn’t a good one to keep in the toolbox.

As an organic farmer, I believe that GMOs “tools” are already proving dangerous and certainly don’t belong on publicly owned land. Farms like ours face potential destruction if GM drift contaminates our crops and we as farmers face lawsuits from biotech companies if GM plants are found on our land. Looking to the future, our farm would never consider selling our land to open space if GM crops might be allowed here some day. Even if the county required GM farmers to carry huge liability policies, I cannot see the possibility of GM and organic co-existing in any long-term relationship because the county cannot protect organic crops from contamination. But beyond particular organic farms like ours, the county is responsible for protecting the health of its open space land and the citizens that live here.

It’s time for Boulder County to take steps away from risky agricultural practices and start down the road to environmentally sustainable policies–which in the long run will prove economically sustainable as well–by banning GM crops, leasing smaller acreages to encourage farming for local consumption, connecting local growers with local organic businesses, and supporting transitions away from chemical dependency through organic practices that increase yields and improve soil for better human and planetary health.

If, like me, you read labels and are concerned about how the food you eat is grown, urge Boulder County to be governmental leaders toward new agricultural practices by emailing them at croplandpolicy@bouldercounty.org.

 

 

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Filed under sustainable agriculture

Four Mile Fire

A melancholy day with the haze of a wildfire hanging over the foothills. But for those with homes or loved ones in the burn area, a frightening day waiting for news . . . and for rain.

It started two days ago when high winds kicked up flames ignited by something—an RV or propane tank?–not yet confirmed.

The numbers mount: seven thousand acres burned, three thousand people evacuated, 54 homes lost, and eight people unaccounted for.

As I drove south into Boulder this morning where the smoke is thicker and the air smells like a mountain campfire from the burning pines, I thought of Emmy Lou Harris’s “From Boulder to Birmingham”:

And I don’t want to hear a sad story

Full of heartbreak and desire

The last time I felt like this

It was in the wilderness and the canyon was on fire.

And I stood on the mountain

In the night and I watched it burn,

I watched it burn, I watched it burn.

The stories on the radio and from friends say the same thing:

I could see the flames as I drove away.

I watched it burn and hoped for the best.

And this:

I looked at everything in my house and realized nothing mattered except getting my family and animals out alive.

So I’m listening to the soundtrack of the Irish film Once, melancholy music for a day like today.

When your mind’s made up

When your mind’s made up

There’s no point trying to change it

When your mind’s made up.

These haunting songs seem meant for today, even if they’re more about love abandoned and betrayed than any other kind of loss.

Leave, leave,

And free yourself at the same time

Leave, leave,

I don’t understand, you’ve already gone

But in love and in life, we all face moments when the decision’s made for us because there is no other choice.

Times when you don’t even look behind because it doesn’t matter: You’re on your way and there’s no turning back.

And as you go, our thoughts are with you.

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Filed under memoir