Are you ready to see behind the curtain and understand more about area produce farms? Join in a bus tour of produce farms in Boulder and Adams counties ranging from two to 2,000 acres, direct to consumer and wholesale, and hear what it takes to help them thrive.
Colorado State University Extension, in partnership with the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, has cued up a tour of four farms for a full Saturday of exploration. This tour is funded by grant dollars through a Specialty Crops Block Grant award from the Colorado Department of Agriculture.
Much of the content I present in this column describes produce farm business threats (workforce, water, weather, markets, etc.) and gives you highlights, but it doesn’t afford you with the opportunity to have a dialogue. This tour offers a deep dive into these issues with more details from tour hosts and farmers, plus the chance to ask questions, see and learn firsthand how scales of produce farms differ and how they each serve a niche in the local food system.
We anticipate that you will be able to compare and contrast characteristics of the farms, describe their business threats and sustainable agriculture needs, describe what you can do to support them, understand the effort required to bring produce to market, name the notable vegetable crops in the area and where you can purchase them.
Our first stop will be Browns’ Farm near Longmont, where we will hear from Catherine Blackwell, a beginning farmer on three acres.
Next we’ll visit with David Asbury from Full Circle Farm, with 200 acres of vegetables north of Longmont. You likely know his retail store, Rocky Mountain Pumpkin Ranch, on Colo. 66.
To give you even greater perspective, we’ll travel to Brighton and visit with Joe Petrocco from Petrocco Farms, one of Colorado’s largest vegetable farms at roughly 2,000 acres, with fields in Adams and Weld counties.
Finally, we’ll wrap up in Hygiene west of Longmont, tour Aspen Moon Farm with Erin Dreistadt, and see portions of the 50 acres dedicated to their vegetable fields.
All these farms have websites, so learn more online about who they are and what they do as you ponder registration. All have overcome significant hurdles in markets and staffing in 2020 and wonder what workforce impacts will arise from potential outcomes of rulemaking on the Ag Workers’ Bill of Rights signed into law June 24 by Gov. Jared Polis.
Topmost for many during the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment rulemaking is the determination of overtime pay for agricultural workers. Agriculture in Colorado, like the ski industry, has longtime exemptions from paying workers overtime due to the nature of the work. How many weekly maximum hours trigger overtime pay will shape how farmers approach tasks of growing and harvesting produce and how they staff their farms in this highly labor-intensive business.
This year CSU published survey results that detailed Colorado agricultural employer characterizations of labor and employment. One survey question asked agricultural employers what they would do if recruitment and retention of workforce did not improve. The top response from produce farmers was to invest in mechanization and automation followed by a reduction of vegetable acres. Third on the list was to increase or start using H-2A international farmworkers. Fourth was ceasing production of labor-intensive agricultural products.
Workforce matters in every business, and it is a topic of great business threat to produce farms.
Join Colorado State University Extension Boulder County on Aug. 28 and learn more. Registration is $15 and includes snacks, water and lunch with beef, chicken and vegetarian choices (all with gluten free options). All participants are required to wear a COVID-19 appropriate mask while on the tour bus.
By Adrian Card, Colorado State University Extension. Adrian is the Colorado State University Extension agriculture extension agent in Boulder County in Longmont.