CSU’s Small Acreage Management programs helping hobby farms get off the ground

Story Carolyn White
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Hands-on tree pruning and weed identification workshop in Grand Junction, Colo.

If you live on the Western Slope of Colorado, own less than 100 acres of land and need some help when it comes to making the most out of your rural lifestyle, a place to start is at the Colorado State University Extension Small Acreage Management Program.

“We don’t provide programs for actual ranchers and farmers,” explained CSU small acreage specialist John Rizza.

Instead, “our focus is on the hobby farmer with a normal, 9–5 job, who is striving for a rural lifestyle, or perhaps just wants to grow his own food.”

As one of only two such specialists in the state, John adds, “it’s pretty intricate. I do approximately 50 on-site visits per year depending on our budget.”

The Small Acreage Management Program’s website is “your source for information and educational materials for sustainably managing your land.”

It helps to “develop a custom management plan based on your property goals,” while incorporating basic resources such as the types of soil and water one has, along with the plants they wish to grow or animals that they want to raise.

Focusing on stewardship, Rizza helps people to take a good look at what they have and make the most of it.

“If there isn’t much space (for example, someone with a yard in the city), we can show them how to do a mini garden with such things as kale, greens, tomatoes and beans in the summer and carrots and beets in the fall.”

In addition to helping landowners manage their ground, he and his staff provide information on irrigation, fencing, insect and weed control, powdery mildew prevention, tips on how to attract hummingbirds, and much, much more.

He can even get people started on energy-saving basics, such as solar or wind-based thermal systems, and he also gives windbreak advice, explaining, “the strongest winds will blow from the north and west, so we recommend that trees and shrubs be planted in two to three rows each on the north and west sides of whatever it is you want protected.”

Since fire season can be troublesome in this state, an additional specialized program (developed with the assistance of a variety of partners) is the Wildfire Protection Toolkit, which is actually a checklist that is meant to help minimize wildfire damage to a home.

Among the many tips: keep gutters and eaves clear of debris such as dry leaves, which could ignite if embers fell on them; keep all flammables such as propane tanks and firewood at least 30 feet away from your home and outbuildings; and immediately clean up all lawn cuttings.

“What we’re trying to do is educate people on how to use fewer resources to improve their property,” Rizza said. “We’re making things better for the next generation. Colorado can be a pretty rough place to grow things … so we get them started with the resources and technology they need, then once they get moving forward we step back and from there and they can join other programs.”

When not travelling, he hosts and speaks at workshops, working with conservation districts, as well as holding live, on-line seminars about property management.

And when at home, he tends to his own garden.

A native of Connecticut, Rizza did his undergraduate studies at CSU, graduating in 2003 with a bachelors degree and then finishing a Masters in Forestry at Knoxville, Tenn. in 2007, concentrating on restoration.

“I worked in 15 states in the last 10 years, cruising timber as a forester as well as reclaiming mining sites,” he said.

Since his “forte is as a consultant to small farmers,” this current job in Colorado (which he took over in November 2011) “is a great fit. We need to be natural resource stewards. This is definitely something that I’m passionate about.” ❖

For more information on Small Acreage Management programs, you can reach John Rizza by e-mail at, or phone at (907) 243-5068 ext. 128.

To view some of their online help sites, go to