Pitkin County Open Space program moves step closer to restoring Emma as valley’s ‘breadbasket’ | PostIndependent.com

Pitkin County Open Space program moves step closer to restoring Emma as valley’s ‘breadbasket’

Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
This image by Pitkin County Open Space and Trails shows the expanding agriculture use of land in Emma. The 11-acre Emma schoolhouse parcel to the left and adjacent 11-acre South Lease parcel will be leased to Two Roots Farm, subject to county commissioner approval.
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The Emma area should be restored as the “breadbasket” of the Roaring Fork Valley, Pitkin County Open Space officials said this week, but only after neighbors get a chance to weigh in on the design of prime farmland.

The Open Space and Trails board of trustees gave full-fledged support Thursday to leasing two parcels totaling 22 acres to Two Roots Farm in the heart of Emma. One parcel is by the old Emma schoolhouse. The other parcel is easterly or upvalley from the schoolhouse.

The county commissioners must approve the agricultural leases.

Christian La Bar and Harper Kaufman, the young farmers who own Two Roots, want to phase in an organic vegetable farming operation at the site, starting with about 4 acres this year.

“I think we’re on the edge of a great project here,” said open space trustee Graeme Means.

Trustee Tim McFlynn said Emma used to be the “breadbasket” of the valley because of all the farms and ranches in the area. He said he was excited to see the plans of La Bar and Kaufman.

“I think this Two Roots proposal is the future of doing ag leasing where we can,” he said.

The open space program has placed growing importance in buying properties suited to agriculture and restoring farming and ranching in recent years.

For practical and regulatory reasons, Two Roots Farm will have to install some infrastructure to make their operation successful. They need a barn or structure they can use to wash, process, store and refrigerate vegetables.

The Food Safety and Modernization Act will require that type of operation to comply with additional regulations by 2020, according to the open space staff, citing information from the Colorado State University Agricultural Extension Agent. Two Roots Farm must have safe and sanitary water, and a building that include washable surfaces and adequate drainage.

A well and electricity will be added to the site this year. The barn and hoop house would be added later after more in-depth planning, according to the open space staff.

The barn and moveable hoop house are being informally proposed on the northeast boundary of the schoolhouse property, a short distance off the Rio Grande Trail. However, the site could change based on what the farmers learn about their needs this summer and public input, according to Gary Tennenbaum, executive director of the open space program. He said the staff would contact the Emma Caucus so residents of the area know about the proposal. There will be a major educational effort that includes site visits and simulations of what the structures would look like in their surroundings.

Trustee Hawk Greenway suggested the structures might best be located where they cannot be easily seen. The open space program has invested in properties in the area to preserve a greenbelt and Pitkin County’s land use policies are designed to “prevent creeping commercialization” at the county line.

Trustee Howie Mallory countered that the barn and hoop house should be visible on a showcase property for sustainable agriculture.

“I want them to see an agricultural operation,” he said.

Mallory added that he is all for public review of the infrastructure, but it shouldn’t be held to a higher standard. He said the county shouldn’t be overly concerned about hiding a barn and hoop house from second homeowners driving to their 5,000-square-foot enclaves. He acknowledged that residents of the area should have a chance to review the plans and give their opinions.

Mallory and Means stressed the importance of completing the review in 2018 so construction can start and the farm can be ready to roll with all facilities in 2019. The lease fee will be waived in 2018. Two Roots Farm would pay $25 per acre on a 10-year lease with an option to renew for another 10 years after five years if they are in good standing, if the county commissioners approve the lease.

Future meetings will be held on the location of the barn and hoop house.

scondon@aspentimes.com