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The future of agriculture: Young community farmers grow their crops and businesses on public land

Young Colorado farmers grow crops and businesses on public land
Young Colorado farmers grow crops and businesses on public land 05:55

The future of the farming industry is being grown in a new way, and in new places, thanks to a new initiative sprouting in Fort Collins. Young farmers are growing both crops and businesses on public land in Fort Collins as a way to manage the land while building businesses. 

Thanks to a partnership between Fort Collins and the Poudre Valley Community Farms, many startup agriculture companies are getting the launch they otherwise couldn't have completed. 

PVCF, a local organization that helps young Coloradans launch their farming dreams, has helped lease Fort Collins open and natural spaces for the young farmers to graze or grow their crops.  

Fort Collins is the fourth-most populated city in Colorado, and the few remaining farms around the city are quickly being purchased and developed for additional housing. With developers offering staggering dollar amounts for access to the land and water rights, most aspiring farmers are priced out from completing their dreams in the city they live.  

Dennis Lacerte is one of the young farmers looking to build his business in and around Fort Collins. 

"I crave being outside, doing work outside, and getting good food to people," Lacerte told CBS News Colorado's Dillon Thomas.  

Lacerte grows many different crops including onions, cucumbers and even ginger.  

Many young adults cannot afford to purchase an apartment, condo or home in Fort Collins. So, purchasing acreage for a farm is even more difficult for those who want to live and work off of the land. Unless land can be passed down from family, many are priced out before they even launch their careers. 


Lacerte is among those who otherwise wouldn't be able to farm in Fort Collins without the opportunity to work on the city's land.  

Lacerte leases a small portion of a 151-acre property in southern Fort Collins alongside several other small business owners.  

They call it community farming. Lacerte grows his vegetables in one patch of the land. Meanwhile cattle owned by Val Sumner are grazing the same property just and acre or two away.  

"Everything we do out here has to work in cooperation with everyone else," Sumner said.  

Sumner owns the NoCo Cattle Company, a small operation which has around 20 head of cattle grazing around 50 acres of the property Lacerte is farming as well. She said she wouldn't be able to afford to run her operation in Fort Collins if it weren't for the opportunity to community farm with her peers on the public property.  

"We run beef cows that are grass fed," Sumner said. "For anyone who wants to start doing this, it is almost impossible unless you have a fair amount of money you are sitting on. And, in that case you likely aren't running cows." 


"Basically the whole point of this program is to support new farmers," said Carli Donoghue of the Northern Colorado Foodshed Project. "Land is extremely expensive." 

Julia Feder works for the city of Fort Collins Natural Areas department. She said the city wanted to offer up their property to local farmers for many reasons.  

"We were really excited about doing something different. Fort Collins is coming at this from a very conservation-focused goal. How can we increase biodiversity? How can we conserve water on this property?" Feder said.  

As highlighted in a previous report on CBS News Colorado, farmers are working open space land across Fort Collins with the initiative of helping maintain the land while preserving the ecosystem and environment.  

By allowing cattle and other animals to graze the land, the city is cutting down on emissions caused by lawnmowers. The animals also help reduce carbon emissions and also naturally fertilize the land


"This fits right into the city of Fort Collins' climate action goals, and the big initiative of thinking about how we bring fresh affordable food to a greater portion of the community," Feder said.  

Stacy Lischka, Executive Director of PVCF, said Fort Collins is helping change the way farmers are growing their businesses while also helping eliminate local food deserts.  

"It is really a new way for us to do business," Lischka said. "We are all willing to put aside how we have always done it and think about what is the best way to do it together." 

One of the ways the young farmers are working together is by sharing equipment and space.  

While Lacerta grows more than 40 different types of crops in one part of the land, nearby Reiden Gustafson of Colorado Fresh Farms is growing flowers, greens and more.  


The companies share a space for washing their products before preparing them for sale. They also share a freezer space.  

"I love taking care of plants, it is kind of therapeutic," Gustafson said. "There's a lot of infrastructure that can be shared on a property like this. A lot of infrastructure in farming is expensive. So, this makes a lot of sense for people to come together and share as much as we can." 

Gustafson is one of many who harvest food from their farm nearly every day during the summer. She said it is not only beneficial to share the leased open space, but to also be able to work near other like-minded people who are navigating the same areas of business.  

"It is great being around other farmers who are doing similar things," Gustafson said. "We share a lot of equipment which makes it a lot more affordable." 

While the land is a great place for the several businesses to grow from, it is not designed to be each business's forever home.  


Donoghue works with some of the farmers to make sure the community farm is a launching place for them to sprout their opportunities on land of their own one day.  

"Now we need to give the education and support so now we can get your business off the ground," Donoghue said as she helped Lacerte plant cucumbers. "It is kind of hard to say we support you without getting your hands dirty and helping out." 

"(Farming this land) is an incredible opportunity because we wouldn't be able to afford to do it in this area without it," Sumner said.  

The farmers on the land are already selling their products both in some stores and at their local farm stand located off of Timberline Road just north of the Fort Collins airport. The "Colorado Fresh Farm Stand" offers 24-hour sales to those looking for locally grown foods in their community.  


The approach for this group of farmers is all focused around the theme of community. The operation is run in a communal way. The products are often purchased by the surrounding community. And, the land is owned by the community.  

"As you are starting a business, you are hitting the ground running. You are not going at it alone. You have a crew around you that wants to see you succeed. And they will be there for educational support, financial support and moral support," Donoghue said.  

All of the farmers featured in this report said they loved working among each other and finding new innovative ways to support each other and coexist. While each also said the community farming initiative comes with challenges, they all agreed they are the perfect group of people to overcome adversity and support the land and each other at the same time.  

"Farmers and ranchers, that is what we do. We work with the land. We manage it and make it sustainable to it continues to thrive," Sumner said. "It comes with challenges, but it is the future of it." 

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