Rising cost of farm land leads to grassroots community innovation


FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Urban farming is at risk of disappearing in Fort Collins because of the rising costs of land access

“The land situation in Fort Collins is definitely very dire for beginning or new farmers. It's even dire for farmers that want to see their land kept in production,” said Katie Slota, a Native Hill farmer. 

In 2015, Fort Collins residents with a shared appreciation for local produce came together to change the future of farming in the city. After learning about the land access pressures on local farmers, community members decided to create Poudre Valley Community Farms.

The organization focuses on short-term leases producers have around Fort Collins. Poudre Valley Community Farms is able to help producers through their grassroots community support and a partnership with the city of Fort Collins Natural Areas be providing land for local agriculture at different city-owned properties.  

“They don't know from year-to-year whether they're going to be able to farm in the same place, which makes it difficult for them to invest time and money in those actions that really add to the conservation value and the climate resilience value of farming,” said Stacy Lischka, executive director of Poudre Valley Community Farms. 

Poudre Valley Community Farms can lease land in natural areas from the city for longer periods of time. The land can then be used to facilitate long-term subleases to farmers in the community with the goal of providing a local producer with land security. 

“The folks that really came together at the beginning were not the farmers. They were the folks who knew the farmers, who bought their food, who liked to eat the food that they knew was grown locally, who saw the beauty of the farms that they were running,'' Lischka said. “And they said, ‘let's all pool our money together to make sure that this happens.’” 

Native Hill Farm has been farming in Fort Collins for about 15 years. The farms is part of Poudre Valley Community Farms' latest project with the City of Fort Collins at Kestrel Fields Natural Area. Located on the north side of Fort Collins, this multi-year project takes an innovative approach to incorporate the unique combination of conservation agriculture, recreation and land stewardship. 

The partnership between Native Hill and Poudre Valley Community Farms is giving the surrounding neighborhood access to locally-produced food; all of the produce is delivered within three miles of where it was grown. 

The project at Kestrel Fields has also created a haven for biodiversity.

The sunflowers surrounding the trails at Kestrel Fields in Fort Collins, Colo., is an excellent example of the restoration taking place at the soon-to-open natural area. Photo by Eric Forbes, taken Aug. 18, 2023. 

“[The] city of Fort Collins bought this piece of land in 2020 and had an idea that we really wanted to keep this in its agricultural roots while also working towards our mission and thinking about how do we have increased biodiversity,” said Julia Feder, the environmental planning manager for the city of Fort Collins Natural Areas Department. 

The new natural area has trails that surround the Native Hills Farm, giving the community an inside look into what urban agriculture looks like in Northern Colorado. 

“All of these people who live so close to this natural area, which makes it such a unique piece of our partnership … that we can really meet all of our objectives in this one place. And really provide services and provide information to such a huge part of the city of Fort Collins residents,” Lischka said. 

There are also educational opportunities to learn about the restoration and farming techniques used at Kestel Field. For example, Poudre Libraries organized an event about conservation agriculture. Community members had the chance to learn about the ways Native Hill implements this method of agriculture to help achieve biodiversity, soil health and water efficiency goals while producing high-quality food.  

“We're just very lucky to have such a great organization in our town,” Slota said. “I think that we probably have, you know, 10 farms that have been able to stay in business and get great food out to the people in this community. And that's a huge win for the community and for the farms and for the city, because that's something that is in their mission statement, is to preserve land for agriculture as well.” 

Kestrel Fields celebrated its grand opening Sept. 9, 2023. The event combined all the unique traits of the new natural area with local food, outdoor activities like biking and birding, and local art at the aptly named Kestrel Fields Fine Art Invitational.