Colorado one of top organic states in the US
December 21, 2016
Nestled in the foothills of Colorado's Rocky Mountains lies the first farm to be certified organic by the state of Colorado, Grant Farms. Decades later, the organic movement has swept across the state.
Grant Farms took root when Colorado State University professor Lewis Grant began growing vegetables on a small scale in the 1960s. His son, Andy, began transforming the farm to organic status in 1974.
"We are deeply committed to growing healthy, delicious food and to being responsible stewards of our land and the people who work on our farm," Andy Grant said. "Grant Farms continues to be a leader in the production of high-quality, sustainably grown produce."
Economists with Colorado State University estimate Colorado's organic industry is worth $40 billion. From 2007 to 2012, the state's organic industry grew $1.7 billion, said Adrien Card, Colorado State University Extension agriculture specialist.
"All regions of the state are growing organic produce. We see producers using both existing operations and starting new ones," Card said. "Vegetable producers with warm-season crops like tomatoes, peppers and melons will often use plastic mulch with drip irrigation. Some apple producers are using innovative high-density plantings and trellis systems."
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Amy Stafford, organic program manager for the Colorado Department of Agriculture, said the state has always been at the forefront of organic production in the U.S. Today, Colorado has the ninth highest percentage of land used for organic agriculture in the U.S. There are 472 certified organic operations in the state that include crops and livestock. In fact, so many people are interested in becoming certified that the state has had to place a moratorium on certifications and is asking applicants to work with private certifiers.
"I have seen some amazingly innovative ideas coming in to the state with organic growers. Just yesterday, someone brought in a bug vacuum that's a piece of equipment attached to a tractor that has a mild intake fan and it just sucks the bugs off the plants," she said. "If you can grow it in Colorado, guaranteed someone is growing it organically."
The most commonly grown organic crops in the state are potatoes, apples, wheat and alfalfa. The grains are used to make organic foods and to be fed to organic livestock.
"There's a 35,000-head dairy that's certified organic in the northeastern region. They contract with area farmers to grow the organic grains," Stafford said.
Stafford said she's seen new farmers start a small organic operation and expand, especially those that are direct marketing to restaurants, individuals or at farmer's markets, while other operations are large traditional ones that diversify into organic systems.
Grant Farms made such a transition decades ago, which has paid off for this big operation. It's a CSA, or community supported agriculture system, where supporters purchase a share of the season's harvest to help cover the farm's yearly operating budget. Members pay for seeds, water and other expenses, and in turn, the farm provides a healthy supply or organic, fresh in-season produce and other items like cheese, mushrooms, fruit, eggs and microgreens.
Ann Snider with Grant Farms said the organic operation raises not just organic produce, but also non-GMO produce. Items in each monthly CSA package for members that are not grown there, like the cheese, Grant Family Farms partners with others who use organic methods and avoid GMOs.
"Even the meat we use is fed organic feed and raised with organic practices," Snider said.
Grant Family Farms serves approximately 2,000 families from Colorado Springs to Casper, Wyo., stopping at 190 delivery sites weekly.
"I have a son who was anti vegetables and once we joined the CSA, all of sudden he was anxious to see what was in the box every week. He's also learning to cook and experimenting with recipes that includes the produce we get. We approach food differently now," Stine said. ❖