By cvlopez | firstname.lastname@example.org
KATE Greenberg, agriculture commissioner for Colorado, is leaving Cactus Hill Farm in Conejos County when she reflects on the farm operations she’s visited so far on her weekend tour of the San Luis Valley.
Greenberg had made stops at the non-profit Rio Grande Farm Park in Alamosa, the large-scale Esperanza Farms managed by Virgil Valdez, and then the niche Cactus Farm where Elana Miller-ter Kuile spoke about the unsustainable nature of fast fashion that the wool farmer sees in an era of water scarcity and climate change.
It was during her time as western program director for the National Young Farmers Coalition that Greenberg would begin to acquaint herself with the area, particularly neighboring New Mexico where she was schooled on the practice of acequia farming and the generational ties to agricultural lands in the high-desert terrain of the region.
It’s been pointed out that she is the first female ag commissioner for Colorado, and maybe the youngest ever after she was appointed to the position in 2018 by Gov. Polis. What’s less described is her ease of command on the issues facing farmers at different scales of operation, and her willingness to engage in the divide between Front Range and rural Colorado as it wrestles with issues like the affluent bedroom community of Douglas County looking to raid the aquifers of the San Luis Valley to quelch its population thirst.
On her visit to the Valley, she sat in the living room of Virgil and Sherry Valdez at Esperanza Farms and heard about fears of getting crops out of the ground and to market this summer due to the lack of farm labor. Earlier she spent time with Jesus Flores and conversed entirely in Spanish with the Rio Grande Farm Park manager, and helped bottle-feed newborn sheep at Miller-ter Kuile’s Cactus Hill Farm.
Across America agricultural leaders like Greenberg wrestle with how to balance the rise of corporate farms that have sliced away at mid-level farming and ranching operations but left a bit of space for the family farmer, community organic operations, and enterprising people like Elana Miller-ter Kuile who clearly has found a niche in the wool-making world.
“Here in the Valley I feel like the different scale, whether it’s very small, or very large, or somewhere in between, it’s all about how do you support your family, support your business, take care of the land and find a market,” Greenberg said.
“I think all of the different operations we’ve seen, whether it’s Rio Grande Farm Park helping families provide food for themselves or for farmer’s markets, Elana selling wool all across the country, or Virgil and Sherry (Valdez) growing for potato sheds for exports, all of that has a place in our ag economy and you could see that just within a few miles of each other here.”
She grasps the very real burnout of farmers and the disappearance of the next generation of ag producers, but even there she found new hope in what’s happening across the San Luis Valley to maintain an agricultural sector.
Her trip into San Luis and Costilla County to attend Saturday’s Congresso de Aquequias 2022 and to learn about the Move Mountains Youth apprenticeship in acequia farming gave her more thought and more ways to move forward in her job handling Colorado’s $7 billion ag economy.
“I think from my experience throughout the years in New Mexico in particular, I come here humbly,” Greenberg said. “Even though I was invited to speak (at the Congresso), I intend to listen a lot more than I speak. I have a farmer friend whose dad always said, ‘We were born with two ears and one mouth for a reason.’ So I hope that’s what I can do, is listen and learn from the folks in San Luis.”
In this video interview with Colorado Agriculture Commissioner Greenberg, she reflects more on the job of ag commissioner, her visit to the San Luis Valley, and why the Renewable Water Resources exportation plan is the wrong approach for managing water in Colorado. Watch our car-ride interview with Commissioner Greenberg:
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