A new nonprofit called the Boulder Open Space Conservancy has planned as its first major undertaking an agriculture center that serves as a resource for Front Range farmers, prospective farmers and anyone else who may be interested.

The Conservancy was established just three months ago as a partnership with Boulder's Open Space and Mountain Parks division. According to its purpose statement, the nonprofit will seek to "leverage public resources with private philanthropy to protect, enhance and preserve Boulder's natural legacy of open space and mountain parks."

It may seem odd to some, then, that something farming-related has risen to the top of the Conservancy's to-do list.

In fact, one-third of the 45,000 acres of open space owned by Boulder is explicitly dedicated for agricultural purposes. And the city is growing increasingly concerned that many of the farmers who lease that acreage are aging, with no younger successors identified.

Diane Murphy, the director of the nonprofit's board, said the agriculture center would, among other things, serve as an "incubator for young farmers." It would also work with older farmers who want to transition to more sustainable practices, possibly including organic food production.


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Sustainability is at the heart of the project's mission, Murphy said. It's reflected in the proposed name for the center: Rocky Mountain Center for Sustainable Agriculture.

The Conservancy is still establishing its strategic plan and building out its full board, so for now, Murphy said, they're "working with pretty bare bones" — about $50,000 in donations to this point.

Field Crew Manager Will Chandler waters freshly potted vegetable seeds at the Cure Organic Farm on Monday in Boulder County.
Field Crew Manager Will Chandler waters freshly potted vegetable seeds at the Cure Organic Farm on Monday in Boulder County. (Jeremy Papasso / Staff Photographer)

That means a lot of work remains to be done on the agriculture center project, but the Conservancy is working on a relatively aggressive schedule, given that it was only born in November; Murphy said she'd like to see the center open next year.

The plan is to identify a property that is both within Boulder's roughly 15,000 acres of agricultural open space and already home to a usable structure, or structures. Murphy said the Conservancy does not want to construct a new building, but rather inhabit, or perhaps repurpose, an existing one.

Boulder would lease the property out for $1 per year, as it does with other community and cultural institutions, such as the Boulder Museum of Contemporary Art.

Murphy said she and colleagues are halfway through a tour of about a dozen different sites that all have potential as future hosts of the center. By June, the Conservancy hopes to have a priority site selected. Fundraising for the center would start "immediately after that," she said.

The current vision for the center calls not only for resources that benefit farmers, but also for educational programs aimed at children and families, and for a farm-to-table restaurant.

"We'll work hopefully with someone like (restaurateur) Kimbal Musk, groups like (Boulder nonprofit) Growing Gardens," Murphy said. "We want to make it a community effort so we can have greater impact in the space."

Though the center is planned to be based in Boulder and supported by city government, it's being designed as a regional benefit to "promote environmentally friendly practices" throughout this semi-arid, high-elevation climate.

Local farmers praised the concept when told of it Monday.

"I think it sounds like a wonderful idea," said Jon Gabel, who keeps a farm near 95th Street and Valmont Road. "I think it's really important to connect the non-ag people with how food is produced here."

Of the incubator function, he added, "It's not just local, but nationwide it's a problem that young people are being lured away from agriculture. ... It sounds like this could be a way to get young people than didn't come from an ag background to introduce them to the possibilities of being involved."

Michael Munson, of Munson Farms, located not far from Gabel's operation, said he'd be particularly supportive of the center if it ends up helping existing farms find employees. There's a shortage not only of permanent successors for aging farmers, but also for short-term workers.

"If they would utilize this as a means for the farmers to employ people, that'd be great," he said. "Say someone wants to get into this and they need mentorship; we could then hire them for a year or two. It's a win-win situation."

Alex Burness: 303-473-1389, burnessa@dailycamera.com or twitter.com/alex_burness