Western Slope Food And Farm Forum Educates, Connects Farmers, Ranchers

Jan 15, 2015

The third annual Western Colorado Food and Farm Forum happened last weekend in Montrose.

A session at the Forum looking at the challenges of a grass-only beef regiment
Credit Jake Ryan

Farmers, ranchers and others involved in working the earth spent all day in sessions and discussions, talking and learning about Western Slope agriculture.  Jeri Mattics Omernik is one of the events planners, and she says that forums like these are common in Colorado, but this one is unique.

“Think of it as a professional development conference for farmers and ranchers,” says Omernik, “most of those happen on the Front Range.  It’s not that the distance is an issue, but many of the more traditional farm forums, address primarily commodity crops, row crops. 

“Because we have such a diversity of elevations and microclimates in western Colorado, we also have a diversity of crops.  Information that is helpful to a corn grower in Yuma is not all that helpful to an apple grower in Paonia,” she says.

Several ‘break out’ session happened over the course of the day, covering topics from seed saving, marketing grass-fed beef, and the legal issues surrounding water law. 

Aron Clay is an attorney in Delta that sees a lot of water law related cases.

"We have a set of laws in Colorado that decide who gets the water, when they can use it, how they use it, and what they have to do with it.  That’s what Colorado water law is all about,” says Clay.

“The issue I talked about today is one of the things I hear about every year.  ‘I have a piece of property.  My neighbor has a ditch that goes across my property.  He wants to clean it, what’s his rights, what do I have to put up with, can I keep him off.’  That’s typically the issue we have locally,” says Clay.

“On a bigger scale, the issues are allocation,” he says, “do we allow new reservoirs to be built for storage, do we allow transfers from the Western Slope to the Eastern Slope?”

At it’s core, the forum was about informing and networking farmers and ranchers across the Western Slope, even if they are entirely professionals.  John Pavely owns some land in Montrose. 

“I have a small 12-acre place that I raise hay for my own horses,” says Pavely, “our idea for when bought this, when retired, was to try to leave it a little better than when we got it.  We’re getting there, but it’s a huge learning curve if you’re not a long time farmer.  These guys, the knowledge you have to have to work the land, it’s just amazing.”

He says he’s learning more than just farming techniques from the old timers. 

“Getting to know some of these farmers, these guys are full of tons of information,” he says.  “It’s like anything else, you sort through, see what you like and what you don’t like, what seems to be working and what isn’t, and just go after it.  Be a little bit fearless, I’m finding.

“It’s OK to fail.  It’s a timing thing with the weather.  I didn’t pay attention to weather most of my life, but here, you really got to watch the weather every day.  ‘Should I cut, shouldn’t I?’  We cut wrong, we got surprised by some weather that we thought wasn’t going to come, so we lost some hay so we have to trade out.  We do what we can. 

"It works out.  What I am getting used to is being patient.  Realizing there’s a cycle and just allowing that cycle to happen.”

That cycle will continue with next year’s Food and Farm Forum.