Community Agriculture Alliance: The industry across the state
For Steamboat Pilot & Today
Rocky Mountain Farmers Union Director of Communications Robert Kjelland visited with Colorado Commissioner of Agriculture Kate Greenberg about her ongoing initiative to get out and meet farmers, ranchers, community leaders and agribusiness owners across the state.
Robert Kjelland: What have you learned during your “Meet N Greets” across Colorado that helps guide your approach as Commissioner of Agriculture?
Kate Greenberg: I’ve been working with farmers and ranchers across the state for years. These listening sessions reinforce what I’ve seen in my work to-date that Colorado agriculture is a unifying community. It is clear that there is a common thread that ties us together. That’s hard work, love of the land, strong business sense and a deep tie to our communities.
RK: Can you speak to the diversity of agriculture in Colorado?
KG: Agriculture is the second top economic driver in the state. Not many people know this. We have incredible diversity in ag, from our top commodities like cattle, corn and wheat, to our lesser-known powerhouses like millet, potatoes, onions, sugar beets, sunflowers. Then we have the regional crops like Pueblo chile, Rocky Ford melons, Palisade peaches and Olathe sweet corn. We have farmers operating on rooftops in the city and ranchers running livestock on large acreages on the plains.
We have more women and farmers of color entering the business; we celebrate farmers whose families have grown food here for generations while welcoming in the next generation of producers. Farmers and ranchers are building out new markets, from direct sales at farmers markets, community supported agriculture and sales to craft breweries, to value-added products, specialty grain and more, all of which we celebrate through our Colorado Proud program. Colorado’s farmers and ranchers are resourceful, creative and have a unique ability to persevere.
RK: Beyond the initial state ag policy priorities, what do you see as emerging or underappreciated challenges and opportunities?
KG: The Colorado Department of Agriculture is ensuring we are doing our part to support the next generation of farmers entering the business. We see real possibilities in the further expansion of high-value agriculture to support farmers bottom lines. Farmer-led, incentive-based efforts to step up stewardship around soil health, water conservation and climate mitigation will position us well for short- and long-term growth. We are growing our outreach in support of farmer mental health, letting producers across the state know they have a confidential resource to lean on when they are struggling by calling Colorado Crisis Services at 844-493-TALK (8255) or texting the word TALK to 38255.
There are many other challenges and opportunities facing agriculture. Who is going to grow our food? How can they make money doing it?
Bottom line economics and federal policy are a big part of this. Technology is advancing rapidly and we need to ensure these advancements benefit farmers and ranchers directly. Climate change and the increasingly unpredictable future it brings poses a huge challenge for all of us, one which farmers and ranchers are poised to help address with support from all of us who depend on them for our food. And of course there are issues of labor and immigration, trade, commodity prices, ag education, waning availability in technical assistance, farmland access and transition and more.
Michele Meyer is the executive director of the Community Agriculture Alliance.
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