Guidestone – New Ways of Thinking About Agriculture in Colorado – Part One

by Mike Rosso

The Upper Arkansas Valley is entering the 21st century with innovative farming and sustainable land use groups dedicated to the local foods movement and to maintaining and enhancing the agricultural heritage of the area.

One of the major players in the new agricultural movement is Guidestone and its Central Colorado land-link initiative. Formed three years ago with the primary purpose of fostering a local food system by assisting new farmers to find access to farmland, the group is the brainchild of David Lynch, who ran a similar program on the Front Range. It was then known as Guidestone Farms, which was a fully diversified community-supported agriculture (CSA) farm that served over 350 families in northern Colorado.

Guidestone Farms had received several awards for its model of sustainable development as well as its development of hands-on farm education programs serving young and old alike. After a church organization who owned the farmland decided not to renew the lease, Lynch spent two years searching for another farm site on the Front Range with little luck.

But, according to Lynch, in the spring of 2007 with the help of the Sid and Erin Schieren and the Oliver family, Guidestone Farm received an invitation to be relocated to Buena Vista area as the centerpiece for a new urbanism development project, Cottonwood Meadows, that would feature a CSA farm on the dedicated open space.

He then decided to slightly alter the existing model and helped develop a nonprofit, Guidestone, which would hold lease on the land and then sublease it to several CSA farm enterprises, including Cottonwood Creek Dairy and Weathervane Farms. They also decided to conduct education programs in partnership with the farm businesses.

Others involved with forming the nonprofit were Erin Schieren, who had previously interned at Guidestone Farm on the Front Range,  as well as her father, Dave Oliver. Others who assisted with the visioning phase for Guidestone, also included Bill Gardiner of the Natural Resource Conservation Service, and Kathyrn Wadsworth, at the time the executive director for the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association (GARNA). GARNA was the umbrella nonprofit under which Guidestone developed its nonprofit status in the Upper Arkansas River Valley. John Cogswell, landowner and inspiration for the Cottonwood Meadows Development, was instrumental in helping Guidestone find its footing; in particular, Cogswell provided a lease-free opportunity, including housing, that gave the farm enterprises the traction needed to get established in the valley.

Guidestone’s land-link pilot program is a first for Colorado that Lynch hopes will set the precedent for a statewide initiative in the next few years. Their goal is to connect prospective farmers with retiring farmers and agricultural landowners, and supporting them in their enterprises through education and resources. They’d like to help young farmers gain access to agricultural land they may otherwise not be able to afford. Another goal is to help landowners put idle property back to work and provide local economic opportunities and helping establish greater regional self-sufficiency with local food products.

In late May Sen. Gail Schwartz was to hold a public dialog in Salida to discuss the barriers faced and solutions envisioned in the land-link initiative, as well as to help begin a dialog with state representatives to encourage their support. She hopes to advance conservation efforts in her district and develop land use policies which will help to maintain rural communities.

On April 18 the first land link lease was signed between Deke and Michelle Darracott and Chaffee County Commissioner Frank Holman, which will enable them to farm on his land. Farm property at the Hutchinson ranch in Salida is also being considered for possible lease by Land Link farmers.

Guidestone has a board of directors consisting of eight valley residents who are “passionate about farmland preservation, farmland access for next generation farmers, and local food production,” according to Lynch. He also serves as the director of the Land-Link Initiative, and Salidan Andrea Early-Coen serves as the Farmhands program director. Farmhands is an offshoot of Guidestone which has developed the Farmhands Educational Programs providing nature-based educational opportunities to area schools, children and families. The curriculum focuses on ecological understanding, traditional arts, sustainable agriculture and human health and nutrition.

Students assist in a working CSA garden, participate in building sustainable structures, goat milking, study aquatic ecology, experience living history, produce written reflections and engage in fun team and character-building activities.

Farmer’s summer education programs are held from June through August at the Meadows in Buena Vista and at the Hutchinson Homestead in Salida.

Details, cost and registration info for the Farmhands programs is available at thier website:

www.guidestonecolorado.com or by calling Andrea at 970-309-3175.

Next month: Addressing the needs of the local rancher, farmers, consumers and landowners; partnerships with other area organizations and the efforts to break down barriers with long-time, established farmers and ranchers.