In Boulder County, Colorado, an acre of farmland can easily sell for $100,000—and that’s without the unicorn-rare water rights in this desert environment. That could make farming here a pricey or even prohibitive prospect. But since the 1990s, the county has been purchasing and preserving open space, accumulating some 100,000 acres. A chunk of that land—25,000 acres—is now devoted to promoting local agriculture. Boulder County Parks and Open Space (BCPOS) leases the land to farmers for the rock-bottom price of $100 an acre per year.
Natalie Condon is one beneficiary of the program. She and her husband started Isabelle Farm on their own land, but they could not have grown on an additional 75 acres without the price break from the county. They currently run a community-supported agriculture program, sell at area farmers’ markets and supply local restaurants with organic produce. “The program keeps agricultural land in production, which is a tough thing to do as ag isn’t a reliable or very profitable business,” Condon says. “It opens the doors to many aspiring and novice farmers who wouldn’t otherwise have a shot at farming in Boulder County.”
About 90 farmers, with pint-size farms of 1 acre to those as large as 1,000 acres, are part of the program. “If not for the county permanently preserving agricultural land, the land would most likely have been developed,” says Jennifer Kemp, BCPOS’s local food & public outreach specialist. “If you look at the intense development of surrounding communities, you see what likely would have happened here,” Kemp says, referring to the zealous development along the Denver-Boulder corridor.
Then again, Boulder is known for being “25 square miles surrounded by reality.” But reality is starting to notice: Kemp says she regularly gets calls from around the country about implementing the program.