County farmers given the go-ahead to grow opportunities
December 19, 2018
Making a living off the land in Boulder County requires rolling with the craziness that Mother Nature doles out and to a great degree, being constrained by what county codes will allow. Boulder County agricultural land use codes haven’t undergone significant updates since 2012, and for some time now Boulder County farmers have been requesting a loosening of regulations that limit their potential to be more profitable.
Started in late 2017, the Agricultural Outreach Project was comprised of staff from Boulder County Land Use, Public Health, and Parks & Open Space departments, along with staff from the CSU Extension office. Their stated task was to update land use codes to “better reflect the county’s agriculture-related goals and policies, and to balance agricultural interests with the need to protect health and safety and uphold the guiding principles of the Boulder County Comprehensive Plan [BCCP].”
Collecting information through surveys, public meetings, online comments, and farm visits, county staff focused on identifying issues and updating regulations in five areas: farm sales, farm events, attendance numbers at farm camps and demonstrations, season extending structures, and an overall change to the land use review processes.
Boulder County Land Use staff offered their concluding suggested amendments to the agricultural land use code to the County Commissioners on Dec. 13. Following the full report, Boulder County Commissioners voted to adopt all of the proposed changes.
One outcome of the project is the term “Verified Established Farm Use.” To qualify as a VEFU, the primary purpose of the land must be producing crops, livestock or other agricultural products to sell, or the landowner must have an annual income from their farm/ranch production of $15,000 or more. This label identifies qualifying entities that contribute substantially to the economy through farming and will simplify previously cumbersome and costly land use procedures.
According to Boulder County Land Use staff, “When a farm with VEFU designation applies for a Land Use review process such as Site Plan Review, staff will process the application with the understanding that a legitimate agricultural use is in place, reducing the need for the farm owner to produce additional narratives and other forms of use verification.”
The size of allowable farm stand structures, the number of days farms may sell products, what they may sell and how many vehicles are permitted to visit have all been expanded under the amended code.
Popular farm-to-table events have been limited under existing regulations. Changes will open up more revenue opportunities from those events by permitting more attendees per event as well as more events per year.
Limits on the number of attendees at camps and educational tour attendees have also been raised within the new code, giving farmers more opportunities to raise revenues and to reach out to the community.
Being able to protect crops from formidable weather and to extend the growing season translates into higher profits for farmers. The code now allows farmers to have more square footage of higher structures.
Local farms such as Kilt Farm at Highway 119 and Oxford Road will be positively impacted by the updated codes. Kilt Farm grows organic produce for a community supported agriculture program and supplies local restaurants and grocery stores, including Niwot Market.
Owner Michael Moss said, “I’m excited by these changes. Even more importantly, I’m excited that the county administration is looking at supporting local farmers. The greatest impact to me is to allow us to have farm dinners and events.”
Moss also said, “I’ll be looking at putting up semi-permanent structures on my land. Right now I use very portable low caterpillar extensions that can’t stay up over the winter. It takes a lot of effort to put them up and take them down, where with the new county regulations, it will be easier and less expensive for me to put up a high tunnel.“
“I would have liked to see more movement, as I’m sure many of the farmers in the area would, and at the same time, it’s a really good first step in addressing the needs of the local farming community,” Moss said. “Because farming is a low margin, high risk business, having the ability to reduce some of those costs as we interface with land use for variances, really helps and shows us that the county is doing what it can to support us.”
While the study also touched on farmers’ needs to process food on site and many requests to change building codes to allow for farm worker housing, the county concluded that those elements fall under a more complicated overlap of county departments and tabled the discussions.
To learn more about the specific agricultural land use code changes, visit http://www.bouldercounty.org/property-and-land/land-use/planning/land-use-code-update/dc-18-0003.
For more information on Kilt Farm, visit: http://www.KiltFarm.com or call 970-846-6233. They are located at 8140 Oxford Rd, Longmont, CO 80503.