Meet some of the farmers in Boulder County who lease open space agricultural land.
Famuer Rasmussen, Jr.
On a cold and wet October day in 2012, participants in the fall Ag Tour descended from two charter buses onto an extremely muddy sugar beet field. There to greet them was Famuer Rasmussen Jr. and his farm crew, all smiling despite the rain dripping down their necks. The original plan was for Famuer to speak briefly to the participants about the sugar beet harvesting process, then have them spend the bulk of the time watching the digger scoop up sugar beets, clean them off and deposit them in the large trucks waiting to deliver them to the Western Sugar Cooperative in Fort Morgan. Despite his protestations that he would likely have little to talk about, Famuer’s story about how he came into farming and how he has successfully grown his business easily occupied the 45 minutes allocated to his portion of the tour.
Famuer is a third generation Boulder County farmer, and as he tells it, sugar beets have been a part of his life from the beginning. Famuer’s father was in the middle of digging sugar beets when his mother went into labor with Famuer, and he’s never been too far away from a sugar beet field since then. Famuer started driving tractors for his father when he was nine years-old, and in high school he started to farm for his uncle, Howard Rasmussen. In his early twenties, Famuer decided to try his own hand at farming by renting a 40 acre property on Highway 52 outside of Longmont and borrowing equipment from his father and uncle. Another farm came up for lease shortly after that, and Famuer added it to his growing enterprise. In 1990, Boulder County Parks & Open Space (BCPOS) acquired the second parcel as part of its agricultural property portfolio, and Famuer’s long-term and successful relationship with the county began.
In the last twenty-eight years, Famuer has gone from renting 40 acres of privately held property to farming approximately 1,000 acres of open space property and an additional 200 acres of private cropland. Like many of the farmers who still operate in the county, Famuer runs a diversified commodity crop program that includes rotating fields of sugar beets, hard red winter wheat, corn, silage, shell corn, alfalfa and Coors malt barley. Along with Western Sugar Cooperative and Coors, Famuer sells his products to ConAgra in Commerce City and Front Range Dairy in Fort Lupton, and the resulting wheat, sugar, milk and beer can be found on most super market shelves long the Front Range.
Over the years, Famuer has consistently found ways to use resources more efficiently and works with National Resource Conservation Services (NRCS) to test new techniques and growing methods. Working with and NRCS, Famuer installed his first center pivot irrigation system, which allowed him to transition that farm away from furrow irrigation and to see significant reduction in water usage for that particular field. He has since added two more pivots to his farms and is incorporating other conservation management practices such as strip till, drift reducing nozzles, high level integrated pest management and hay harvesting that better flushes out wildlife. Many of these efforts were funded through an Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Air Quality contract aimed at reducing high nitrogen levels being recorded in Rocky Mountain National Park. All of these efforts resulted in Famuer and his fiancée, Carmen Gibson, winning the 2013 NRCS Colorado Farmer Conservationists of the Year award.
When asked what the BCPOS program has meant for farmers and agriculture in Boulder County, Famuer reflected that many of the current farmers grew up on these properties and have always known them as farm land. The program gives farmers a way to earn a living and lets them remain together as friends and neighbors. Famuer complimented an “all-around great program.” Efforts by Famuer and the other 80 BCPOS agriculture tenants have insured that county agricultural land will remain healthy and productive for many years to come.
Dave Asbury moved to Longmont, Colorado as a young child, and even though he grew up in the city, Dave found ways to be involved in farming. His neighbor had greenhouses, which Dave watched when the neighbor was away, and as a child, Dave always had a vegetable garden. As he grew older, Dave and his brother worked on the farms that his father had purchased around Longmont. Dave’s first business, Just Fresh Produce, was a wholesale produce company which sold to customers throughout the Front Range. After only two years of running that business, Dave realized that he didn’t want to just sell produce, he wanted to grow it.
Dave began his successful farming career nearly 20 years ago as one of the first farmers in Colorado to launch an agri-tainment business. Back then, people were looking for ways to reconnect with farms and farm life, but unlike now, there were not as many opportunities to visit farms or farm stands. Dave tapped this opportunity by starting Rocky Mountain Pumpkin Ranch (RMPR), the first pumpkin stand in Boulder County which provided a variety of fall entertainment opportunities for families with young children. With the success of RMPR, Dave was able to diversify and grow his operations to include Full Circle Farm, a certified organic vegetable farm.
Dave began leasing property from Boulder County ten years ago, when he won the bid on the Strawberry Property. Over the years, Dave has grown Full Circle Farms into a thriving business that leases 1100 acres of farm land, including 700 acres of BCPOS property, on which he grows 70 varieties of vegetables along with small grains, grass hay, alfalfa and a small herd of cattle. Full Circle Farms takes a diversified approach to marketing its vegetables as well – 1/3 of the produce is sold on the wholesale market, 1/3 is sold at local farmers’ markets and 1/3 is sold at its retail stand. RMPR continues to thrive as well, growing and selling over 400,000 pounds of pumpkins and entertaining thousands of visitors each fall.
Jules Van Thuyne
Jules Van Thuyne was born at home on his parents’ farmstead ½ mile away from where he now lives and farms on Monarch Road. Jules’ grandparents first began farming in the Longmont area in 1917 for the Ludlow family, first at the Wilke property, then on a farm on Niwot Road. When Jules’ father was a boy, the Van Thuynes bought the family farm located just south of Longmont on Highway 287, and in 1992, the family sold one of the first conservation easements in Boulder County to the Parks & Open Space Department.
When asked if he always wanted to be a farmer, Jules explains that farming “was a passion for me at a really young age. I just kind of got hooked on it really, really early, probably when I was 7 or 8 years old.” Jules practices the same type of large scale commodity crop production as his father did, and in a typical year he will raise corn, sugar beets, wheat, barley and alfalfa. However, just because he has farmed the same crops for 32 years does not mean that he is not always looking for better ways to farm and bring further efficiencies to his operations. In recent years, Jules has added five center pivot sprinkler systems to his properties, making the delivery of water vastly more efficient than a ditch-fed system. In a drought year such as this one, a center pivot is “worth its weight in gold.”
This year, Jules also used a strip-till machine to plant his sugar beets. Unlike in years past, where he may have had to plow, disk and heavily till a field, Jules planted directly into the field using the strip-till and leaving the residue on top of the ground. The process uses much less fuel and water, and so far, the sugar beets are thriving despite the hot and dry conditions.
Jules sees the work of Boulder County’s Parks & Open Space in an extremely positive light. One of the farms he initially leased from a private land owner was later put under a conservation easement by the county when Jules purchased it in 1997. In 2000, Jules also bought the farm house he has lived in for the past 32 years from the county and purchased the surrounding farm in 2008.
Being an experienced and skilled farmer, Jules was able to lease property from the county. He now farms a total of 1800 acres that are both privately owned and owned by the county. In reflecting on his experience with the Parks & Open Space Department, Jules explains that his career ran in parallel with the county’s program, and he was afforded many opportunities to grow and develop as a farmer. As Jules concludes, “It’s been a good relationship, it really has.”
Wyatt Barnes was drawn to the Colorado mountains from his hometown, Philadelphia, PA, for the same reason so many other people are – the biking and skiing opportunities. After spending several years in his early twenties in Breckenridge, Wyatt moved to Boulder to attend the University of Colorado, where he received his Bachelor of Science in Business Administration. Wyatt found that working for a large Boulder-based corporation did not fit his personality, and he found himself answering an employment ad for a farm stand in Lafayette. Despite having little farming experience (Wyatt planted gardens as a high school student, but most everything he tried to grow “was eaten by slugs”) Wyatt took to the farming lifestyle. When the farmer who leased the private property on Valmont decided to throw in the towel, Wyatt and his wife, Amy Tisdale, decided to take over the farming business, and Red Wagon Organic Farm was born.
That was back in 2003. In their first year of farming, Wyatt claims that they planted nearly 10,000 tomato plants outdoors, but didn’t get any tomatoes. They also produced approximately 45,000 vegetables on their leased property and worked straight through by themselves from mid-April to the end of October. They determined that each year they would get better, and have seen around 27% growth in their business each year since then. Learning how to plant and grow vegetables more efficiently has helped; techniques such as using drip tape irrigation and planting into agriculture plastic, where three people can transplant 5,000 plants in one day, have made Red Wagon one of the larger market farms in Boulder County, with nearly 40 people working for the farm each season.
In the late 2000s, Wyatt and Amy began talking to the Boulder County Commissioners about the need for small market farmers to be able to live where they grow their food. At that time, the county usually bought large farms and ranches for its Open Space program, but sold off the farm houses and small amounts of the surrounding acreage to private buyers. The Commissioners were encouraged to sell the houses to farmers who could then enter into long term leases for the surrounding agricultural properties. In 2010, Wyatt and Amy successfully bid on a farm house located on an old dairy off of N. 63rd Street in Longmont. Working with the county, Red Wagon now leases the 30 acres surrounding their home along with the 40 acres to the south. Being able to lease property for relatively cheap amounts has given Wyatt and Amy the ability to determine how best to use the land before trying to make it productive.
Since their early days of working non-stop through the growing season, Wyatt and Amy have grown Red Wagon into a Boulder County mainstay, offering a large diversity of fruit and vegetables to the public. Their products can be found weekly at the Boulder Farmer’s Market beginning in mid-April and at their farm stand at 95th and Arapahoe, beginning in mid- August. They also sell their products to a large number of local restaurants, and have recently started a pumpkin patch at their property on 63rd Street in the fall. Farming is clearly a passion for Wyatt, and under his careful observation, Red Wagon will continue to grow and provide healthy vegetables for Boulder County in the years to come.
John Schlagel, a 3rd generation Boulder County farmer, was born at home on his parents’ original farmstead on Airport Road. Back then, Longmont was a small farming town of 10,000 people, and Airport Road was little more than a dirt road. As a child, John attended Niwot Elementary, which at the time was a small school located on the Dodd Farm just west of the Diagonal. When he was thirteen years old, John’s parents sold their Longmont farm and moved to a farm just east of County Line Road.
While in his teens, John helped his father run a cow-calf operation that included growing corn, sugar beets, barley, grass hay and alfalfa. At the tender age of twenty-one, John moved back to Boulder County to start his own farming career. Boulder County had just purchased the Nelson Farm on Ogallala Road – one of the first farms purchased by the county’s fledgling Open Space program – and John had the opportunity to buy the 20 acre Nelson Farmstead surrounded by the new open space parcel. While he believed that he was fully capable of running a large farm operation, John now states, “It is amazing that they rented to me, because farms were hard to get then. This was a farm area. Longmont was an ag town, and now it is not. I still don’t know why they rented it to me. [But] I think we did a good job.”
John’s operation has grown over the years and he now leases the IBM parcel, as well as the Dodd Farm, on which he played and attended school at as a child. John’s cattle operation breaks down into three parts. He breeds cattle for a ranch located in Walden, Colorado where the long, cold winters are not suitable for pregnant cows. He also has a herd of 350 heifers, which he breeds for his own operation. John also operates a 950 cow feedlot on the Nelson Farm. The cattle he raises are all ¾ Black Angus and ¼ Gelbvieh breeds which are certified natural and are sold to Meyer’s Natural Beef in Fort Morgan, Colorado. On average, John sells 300 cows or 300,000 pounds of meat, which is enough to feed 5,000 people in one year.
Last year, John and his wife, Joan, purchased the Nelson Farm property that they have leased from Boulder County since 1975, bringing it back to its original homestead under one owner. Of farming on Open Space, John states that, “Everyone that I know that rents from Open Space treats that farm like it is their own. … Whether I am farming here on our own (property) or at Dodd’s, I’m doing it exactly the same. [The] tenants really are taking care of it, they aren’t just there to make money that year.”
Keith Bateman is proud to call himself a 5th generation Boulder County farmer. Keith’s great-great grandfather, Adolph Waneka, homesteaded in Boulder County in 1859, and Keith’s father farmed around Waneka Lake when Keith was a child. However, when Keith was 15 years old, his father sold all of the family’s farm equipment and was preparing to move to Oklahoma in response to the increased development occurring in Boulder County.
For whatever reason, Keith’s family didn’t move, and the very next year Keith borrowed $800 and leased his first 40 acres of land to begin his own farming career. At that time, the old-timers thought he was crazy for going into farming when he did. Keith now farms on thousands of acres of land in the county – over 2,000 of which he leases from Boulder County Parks and Open Space. Along with being the largest wheat producer in the county, Keith also raises barley, corn, alfalfa, grass hay, oats (for both grain and feed) and millet.
Of farming, Keith says that it is in his blood, stating that, “I grew up farming and it was the only thing I wanted to do.” Keith’s son, Cory, now farms alongside him and Keith hopes that his two grandsons, ages three and four, will become 7th generation farmers in Boulder County.
As a child, Mark Guttridge lived a typical country kid’s life on his grandmother’s 6 acres of land off of Hover Road. He played in the creeks and ditches, raised sheep, chickens, rabbits and vegetables for 4H to show at the Boulder County Fair and participated in his family’s self-sufficient lifestyle by preserving food. Yet like most children, Mark couldn’t wait to move away from home, and he left to study Environmental Engineering at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas. After seeing the world, Mark returned to Colorado to get his Master’s degree in Water Resource Engineering at the University of Colorado.
Mark and his wife, Kena, along with their two older daughters, moved back to his grandmother’s property six years ago. While Mark worked 40 hours a week as an environmental consultant, the family planted what turned out to be an oversized vegetable garden in an effort to live more sustainably on their property. After sharing the resulting abundance of vegetables with all of their friends and neighbors, Mark and Kena turned to the Niwot Market to offload the remaining produce. The following year, the Guttridges began selling at the Longmont Farmer’s Market and three years ago, they started leasing 18 acres from Boulder County which surrounds their farm.
Mark categorizes the BCPOS leasing program as “unique” in that it supports the creation of new farms and gives beginning farmers the chance to start and expand their farming operations. With the additional acreage from BCPOS, Ollin Farms is now an economically viable operation for his family, which has grown to include two more daughters, and is further providing the local community with fresh vegetables that are available at the Longmont Farmer’s Market, the seasonal farm stand at Ollin Farms and through the sale of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) shares to individuals and families. While Mark has yet to quit his environmental consultant job, he does plan to “farm for the rest of my life or until I can’t move.”
When asked what brought him to Boulder County, Dan Lisco quickly replies, “my wife!” Dan grew up on a cattle ranch in Wyoming and met his wife, Cindy, while studying for a Master’s degree in Animal Sciences at Colorado State University. Cindy’s father, Rex Walker, started Sombrero Ranch, a guided horseback riding business in 1958 in Estes Park. By the time Dan married into the family business, Sombrero had grown to include nine riding stables along the northern Front Range and on the Western Slope, including two operations in Rocky Mountain National Park, and a statewide herd of approximately 1500 horses.
Dan now operates the Boulder County portion of the business. During the winter, Sombrero pastures between 250 and 300 horses on county and privately owned properties. Dan also grows hay on 1200 to 1300 acres of land, producing around 4,000 tons of hay a year, all of which is used by Sombrero for their operations in Boulder County.
Spring is the busiest time for Dan and his crew. Over 500 horses are shipped out of Boulder County and sent to live at the Sombrero stables or to other guest ranches and children’s camps, who lease herds of horses that range in size from 6 to 60 head. Each horse has to be checked for health and shoed prior to shipment. Sombrero’s focus on good customer service has created many long standing relationships, and many happy riders throughout the state of Colorado.