On Friday, over 25 Southwest Colorado farmers and farm advocates took time out of a busy harvest day to meet with Republican Congressman Scott Tipton to share hopes and concerns for the future of farming in the Southwest. The forum, organized by NYFC and hosted by the farmers of James Ranch in Durango, was held the day after the surprise failure of the 5-year Farm Bill in the House, of which the Congressman was a supporter.
Farmers from Bayfield to Mancos engaged with the Congressman, a member of the House Agriculture Committee, for over two hours on topics ranging from steep land prices in the southwest to regulations surrounding alternative housing on farms. The Congressman expressed the need for more farmers on the land and emphasized the connection between business and farming. Earlier this year the Congressman formed a bipartisan Small Business Caucus with democratic Congresswoman Pingree, a champion of local foods and farming bills.
Farmer Mike Nolan, owner of Mountain Roots Produce, shared how local agriculture has gained new momentum in SW Colorado with the formation of the Southwest Grower’s Alliance. Dustin Stein, another young farmer and owner/manager of Stubborn Farm & Burke Beef discussed how unique partnerships between established and beginning farmers can help make land accessible.
Dave James, founder of James Ranch, highlighted the opportunities for local agriculture in destination communities such as Durango, and the need to keep land in production with young producers. Following local snacks courtesy of James Ranch, Jennifer Wheeling–one of the James children who returned to work on the ranch–provided a tour of the gardens. Farmers discussed the need for irrigation efficiency in this arid climate; and while water supply varies season to season, ongoing drought remains present on every farmer’s mind.
Farmers emphasized the need for champions in Congress who can build legislation flexible enough to meet the diverse needs of the small farmer. The Congressman suggested co-hosting a fall event to expand awareness of local foods and offered to connect beginning farmers with volunteers from the SCORE program–a network of business leaders who offer business planning and mentoring to beginning entrepreneurs. Our hope is that Congressman Tipton will become an advocate for beginning and sustainable growers in future farm policy debates.