Centennial farms and ranches are redefined, expanding Colorado agriculture’s legacy | TheFencePost.com

Centennial farms and ranches are redefined, expanding Colorado agriculture’s legacy

Think about the wide range of American meals: a fast-food dinner pick up after soccer practice, a vegetable smoothie breakfast, a six-course gourmet meal with wine pairings, a home-cooked Sunday supper at Grandma’s house. Each of these experiences is rooted in agriculture.

In our increasingly urban American culture, we only occasionally remember — and sometimes associate — the farmers and ranchers behind the food we eat. For every farmer whose face we might see on a photo in the produce aisle or at a summer produce stand, there are many things that are unseen: the hard business decisions made at the kitchen table before the sun comes up; the struggle during drought years; the second and third jobs; the workers who top the onions or pick our chiles; taking care of the animals before school; the terror of hail clouds and wildfires.

Of course, agriculture also is defined by beauty and a love of the land, as well as the rootedness of family and traditions. The annual Centennial Farms and Ranches event, co-hosted by History Colorado and the Colorado Department of Agriculture, honors the depth of these roots every August at the Colorado State Fair. The event spotlights the agricultural people and families who have persevered for more than 100 years and continue to preserve the food systems that nourish us. Most importantly, it commemorates the legacy, culture, evolution and expansion of Colorado agriculture.

This is the 36th year that Centennial Farms and Ranches has celebrated farms and ranches that have worked the same land for more than a hundred years. Century-long survival in agriculture requires an alchemy of past and future, generational intuition plus innovation, ancestral land practices combined with technology.

That’s why moving forward, we have expanded Centennial Farms and Ranches to also recognize enduring agricultural practices, businesses, individuals and cultures that have shaped and redefined Colorado agriculture. More than ever, in addition to the farmers and ranchers, these new categories of ag contributors are also preserving important pieces of our state’s commercial and cultural history.

For example, this year’s event will recognize the centuries-old communal water management practices of acequia communities, with Spanish and Moorish origins that pre-date Colorado’s statehood —and that still are utilized in the San Luis Valley. Colorado’s agricultural legacy is sweeping and must include these deep traditions, Indigenous practices, and collective care for the land and water that sustains and feeds us.

We are also celebrating centennial agribusiness that recognize the historical value and impact multi-generational organizations have on our agricultural communities. These contributions are an important part of our industry, economically and commercially.

Most noteworthy, we have expanded how we define agricultural heritage in Colorado beyond land ownership, making space to include ag families with at least a 100-year tradition of working the land, who — for economic, political and discriminatory reasons — haven’t owned the land. For example, the Hirakata family, recognized this year and known for their world-famous Rocky Ford cantaloupes and melon, has been farming in Otero County since 1915, after Tatsunosuke Hirakata immigrated to the U.S. from Japan. It wasn’t until the passage of the 1952 Immigration and Nationality Act enabled Issei (or Japanese-American immigrants) to become citizens that the Hirakata family purchased their first 30 acres of farmland. The legacy and continued operation and leadership of Hirakata Farms is important to Colorado’s history and economy.

For millennia, people inhabiting the place we now call Colorado have fed their families and sustained communities from the land. And still today, Colorado continues to be shaped by the rich agricultural legacies and land practices of families and communities that existed on this land long before we became a state. We can draw strength from these histories of endurance, persistence, perseverance and resilience in the face of momentous change and challenge, as we face new challenges of climate change and significantly shrinking water supply.

Every single human on earth has agricultural ancestors. In Colorado, we are lucky to have them so close in our collective genealogy. Let’s celebrate and learn our Colorado agricultural legacy, as we relish the sweet harvests of this season.

Dawn DiPrince is the executive director of History Colorado, a state agency that is firmly rooted in exploring and fully telling the stories of Colorado history, and was recently named Colorado’s State Historic Preservation Officer by Gov. Jared Polis. She is a fourth-generation Coloradan and a champion for work that helps share the history of all communities and people in our state. With roots in southern Colorado, Dawn began her career with History Colorado as the assistant director at El Pueblo History Museum and then director at the Pueblo museum.

Greenberg was appointed to serve as Colorado’s first woman Commissioner of Agriculture by Gov. Jared Polis in December 2018. As Commissioner, Greenberg provides leadership and direction to the Colorado Department of Agriculture, which serves producers operating more than 38,700 farms and ranches in the state.


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