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Group looks to grow new farmers in Roaring Fork Valley

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Marci Krivonen
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There’s growing momentum around producing local food in the Roaring Fork Valley. The new group Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers and Ranchers sprung up earlier this year. It targets mostly young people and it’s meant to help new farmers with hurdles like expensive land. Aspen Public Radio’s Marci Krivonen has more.

Harper Kaufman got into farming after graduating from college. She interned on a farm in northern California.

"I pretty much fell in love with farming there. I knew that I wanted to stay with it for awhile," she says.

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Credit Marci Krivonen
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Harper Kaufman says she fell in love with farming after college, when she was interning at a farm in northern California.

Kaufman is in her 20s. She now works as the agriculture manager at ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch — a midvalley non-profit operation.

"It just gives me a real sense of purpose and I love the work. I feel like I can do something really tangible to solve some of the world’s most intangible problems."

She helped found the Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers and Ranchers — a group of about 30 that meets monthly to discuss everything from...

"...how to grow tomatoes successfully in a hoophouse to what we think about the new Farm Bill to, are farmer’s markets the best outlets for beginning farmers.”

Even though the group’s met a handful of times, it held an official launch party last week.

Inside Beer Works in Carbondale, beginning farmers are snacking on local food and drinking Colorado brews.

"We came because there’s such a need for local food here," says Erin Cuseo, 30, of Carbondale.

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Credit Marci Krivonen
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Merrill and Randy Johnson are a father-daughter farming team with 102 acres in Missouri Heights. They attended Thursday's launch party at Beer Works.

She has farmed before and is looking to get into it again.

"The customer base is here. People are looking for local food and wanting it and we need to create a better platform for distributing that food and reaching consumers, as well as creating an environment that’s a little more warm to farmers here, in order to get farmers on the land and producing food."

Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers’ target group is producers with less than ten years experience — most are young — in their 20s and 30s.

Kate Greenberg with the National Young Farmers Coalition says it’s important to get this group involved now. The average age of the Colorado farmer is 59. And, with their impending retirement, working land is expected to change hands.

"We really see cultivating young farmers and reducing the barriers to their entering a career in agriculture as critical to addressing the land succession crisis that we’re just at the precipice of."

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Credit Marci Krivonen
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Jimmy Dula is a beginning farmer in the Roaring Fork Valley. He also helped form the Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers and Ranchers.

The local beginning farmers group is a branch of Greenberg’s group. The idea is, this kind of networking will help new farmers overcome hurdles like land access, high capital costs, water rights and even student loan debt.

"One thing that we have found nationwide through a recent survey is that student loan debt is one of the most significant barriers to this new generation of potential farmers and ranchers. It’s keeping people from entering careers in agriculture."

Old Snowmass rancher Steve Child does not fit into the “beginning farmers” category.

"Since 1961 I’ve been involved in agriculture," he says. "I was 13 years old when I started working with cattle, hay and irrigating.”

But, he is a champion of the new farming group.

"I am really excited to see this. It’s like a resurgence of agriculture in the Roaring Fork Valley. It’s different. It’s not traditional cattle and sheep. It’s more the locally produced, organic, slow food movement - all of those kinds of things."

As a Pitkin County commissioner he’s supported efforts to lease government land for a reduced price, to starting farmers.

"So we’re making it possible for young people to get a foothold and have a piece of ground they can be farming."

For young farmer Harper Kaufman, getting into agriculture has to do with timing. She thinks young people are curious because they’re a few generations removed from the land.

"For our generation, I think we’ve been removed long enough to have that intrigue again and to be really wanting to reconnect with the food and with the land. I think it’s true that it is attractive now," she says.

Roaring Fork Beginning Farmers and Ranchers has attracted beginning producers from as far away as Rifle and Vail.