Category Archives: Colorado

Bioregional Agriculture in Colorado

“Our food system is broken. What kind of society do we live in that pays all of our farmers to grow the same five crops? —Adam Brock”

Adam Brock, who helped found Denver’s by-now-famous GrowHaus*, tells us that we need a bioregional cuisine here in Colorado not unlike the Cajun food found in the Gulf area. Because we live in a region with very little precipitation, we need to start listening to the land, because we can only get our crops that we do today by working against nature. By growing bioregional food here on the High Plains, we’d use less water and produce food with better nutrition. He suggests eating foods such as a salad made with Sorrel, Bison, and Nopali (Prickly Pear Cactus).

Brock explains that Colorado’s farmers have to play into the commodities markets to compete economically with a result that our state’s top crop is wheat, followed by corn, hay, millet, sorghum, and sunflowers. Showing us a pie chart of the state’s water allocations in 2011 (@3:35), 44 percent of Colorado’s water goes to irrigation for agriculture and 30 percent to power generation.

Here is his list of plants that he recommends we eat and plant in our gardens, because they are native and/or suited to our climate:

• Nopal cactus – prickly pear cactus
• Sunchoke (also known as earth apple or Jerusalem artichoke)
• Sorrel (lower right photo)
• Sea Buckthorn
• Currant
• Burdock
• Amaranth
• Goji berry
• Goumi
• Jujube
• Lovage
• Nanking cherry
• New Zealand Spinach
• Prairie turnip
• Western Sand Cherry
• Yellowhorn

Brock has a website (atriplex.org) which lists more plants he recommends for food that work with nature here in Colorado.

He is also instrumental in helping to plan Denver’s first public food forest.

You may listen to his great talk here:

*****

*The GrowHaus is a half-acre greenhouse in an under-served area of Denver which uses aquaponics to produce fresh greens and vegetables to its local community at prices “less than Walmart’s”.

Also recommended: Seattle creates a public food forest; Hardy Perennials for your small farm; and, Denver’s GrowHaus website.

Photos: Wikipedia and GrowHaus.

Hardy Perennial Plant Suggestions for your Acreage or Small Farm

There is a very remarkable nursery in Northeastern Nebraska, near the farm where I grew up, called HH Wild Plums Inc. It was founded by the famous (but not as famous as he should be) horticulturalist plant finder, Harlan Hamernik. He passed away tragically in 2012, and I wrote up a brief tribute to him here.

Though Hamernik introduced many new plants to the gardeners across the U.S. over his lifetime, he focused in his later years on neutraceuticals, or, healthy edibles and medicinals, some of which were used by Native Plains Indians. Especially, this interest was from those sources which were in the form of perennials, shrubs, and trees – something the Midwest is not known for in our current day and age, but were key to the health of the nomadic tribes which preceded us.

Today, I interviewed Tammy Melcher of “HH Wild Plums” to get an update on this nursery which was founded by Harlan Hamernik for the purpose of promoting sales and the popularity of these hardy edible plants which he studied and discovered. She and plant propagator-grower, Lori Pfeifer, are instrumental in their small operation.

My impression of Harlan from personal experience, was that he was an incredibly intuitive plantsman, so readers, pay attention.

First, I asked Tammy to list five plants and a couple of trees that she would recommend to farmers/landowners who would like to incorporate edible or medicinal perennials into their farm, either as a hobby, or as a value-added crop or food product. Note that this list works in Nebraska, but most of these plants are extremely hardy and would grow well in much of the U.S., especially the Midwest and Upper Midwest.

Here is her list:
1. Aronia (8-10′ shrub)
2. Crandall’s Clove Currant (6×6′ shrub)
3. Redleaf Rose (7×7′ shrub)
4. Elderberry (7×7′ shrub)
5. Serviceberry (10×10′ shrub)
6. Tree: American Hazelnut (18′ tall)
7. Tree: Dwarf Chinkapin Oak (10-15′ tall)

There was no doubt that Tammy was most enthused about the Aronia plant which produces the common named “chokeberry”. She’d just returned from an Aronia conference in Omaha, and the awareness of this plant is catching on a bit, but, she said, “ninety percent of the public doesn’t know about it.” In general, the dark blue, purple and black berries contain high levels of antioxidants, making them superberries, or superfoods. We all know that blueberries are a superfood, but, according to Tammy, the Aronia berry contains three times the amount of antioxidants that blueberries do. (Note there is a current question about the benefits of antioxidants in this past year’s news and studies.) Indians used these berries as an ingredient in Pemmican. High tannin levels make these berries tart, thus the name “chokeberry”. The bright side of this is that birds tend to leave them alone, as opposed to other berries which you need to cover with netting, or pick before the birds do.

Incidentally, Tammy was not aware of sending Aronia plants to Colorado, and thought they would do very well here on the front range, so Colorado readers take note.

Three varieties of Aronia which Tammy recommends are Black Aronias: Aronia melanocarpa ‘Galicjanka’; Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’; and, Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’. ‘Galicjanka’ is a cultivar from Poland which tolerates drier soil conditions; ‘Viking’ is from Scandinavia and produces very large fruits; and, ‘McKenzie’ was produced at North Dakota State which has extra-large berries, and is drought and cold tolerant. These shrubs need chill hours so don’t grow in the South. They are drought tolerant once established, and they produce beautiful fall color.

Aronia berries are used in smoothies, salsas, jellies, breads and muffins, and for wine. A supplement form is available which uses a powder to create an extract. A company in Omaha, named “Superberries” owned by Kenny Sailors, uses Aronia berries to make products such as gummy chews, frozen berries, and concentrate. Also, according to Tammy, the Black Squirrel Winery in Council Bluffs, Iowa, makes a great wine using Aronia berries.

The next shrub on Tammy’s list is Crandall’s Clove Currant, or Ribes odoratum ‘Crandall’. This shrub also produces a black medicinal berry which is high in antioxidants and polyphenols. This grows in rich well-drained clay soil to plant hardiness zone 4.

The Redleaf rose is a beautiful hardy shrub rose producing a hip rich in Vitamin C. I have personally grown this in my yard and love the iridescent blue-green sheen to its leaves. If you grow it, as an added bonus you will occasionally have a volunteer pop up in your yard. Also, Rosa Pomifera, or the apple rose, is a good hardy choice which produces good fruit. One can make tea from the rose hips of either plant.

Elderberries, or Sambucus species, are another hardy shrub which produces a black berry that is high in Vitamin C and antioxidants. These grew wild when I was a child and I used to help my grandmother pick them to make jelly. I’ve personally picked them from road ditches to make a pretty darn good pie, if you don’t mind the seeds. Even better, you can make a combination berry pie such as elderberry-cherry. Elderberries grow across the U.S., but are less drought-tolerant.

The Serviceberry, or Amelanchier canadensis, produces large black berries that are loved by both humans and birds. They make delicious jams and pies. A good variety is alnifolia ‘Parkhill’ which is a dwarf.

Next, the two trees on Tammy’s list.

The American Hazlenut is formally named Corylus Americana. It is a small tree which produces an edible nut. It likes afternoon shade and requires two trees for nut production.

The Dwarf Chinkapin Oak is a great native shrub oak. By 3-4 years of age, it produces a nut which is valued by wildlife. These nut producers are about 15-18 feet tall, but can be trained shorter. Hamernik would collect this tree’s seeds from the wild, as is true of many of the plants which Wild Plums sells.

HH Wild Plums Inc. has a great catalogue online plus, they will be happy to send you a nice spiral bound hardcopy, such as the one I have lying next to my computer as I type this. There are many, many more varieties of trees and shrubs, along with unusual varieties of perennials, annuals, and vines available from their nursery.

If you have a favorite hardy native edible, please let us know about it in the comments.

Photo credit: Purple Aronia berries, by Konjica.

Colorado Farmers Hit by Flood Could Use Your Help

Readers,
A friend of mine is involved in the efforts to help out the small farmers here in Boulder County and other northeastern Colorado counties following the devastating flood which happened two months ago.

Here is a brief summary from him about this most worthy cause:

Local Food Shift Group (a Boulder Colorado-based non-profit) has partnered with the Community Foundation of Boulder County to create the Front Range Farm Relief Fund (see video below).

The Fund will provide grants to small farmers, ranchers, growers, beekeepers and other food businesses in ten front range and northeastern Colorado counties hit hard by the “biblical” flood that hit the area in the middle of September.

Applicants to the fund are small, diverse farmers, ranchers, growers and food producers who do not qualify for federal flood insurance, FEMA benefits or other government aid programs.

Please learn more at: Front Range Farm Relief Fund, and pitch in if you’re able.

Thanks!

………………………………. TO DONATE ……………………………….

By clicking the link below, you will be directed to the Community Foundation’s secure donation site, where you can select the amount you want to give and your payment method.

Select “Front Range Farm Relief Fund” from the pulldown menu under “I want my donation to be designated toward:” to apply your donation toward this fund.

Thank you for your support!

Click here to donate now.

Or make a check payable to Front Range Farm Relief Fund, and mail it to:

The Community Foundation
1123 Spruce Street
Boulder CO 80302

World Food Day: Eat and Act Like a Coloradan

Today is named “World Food Day” and numerous online and hard copy publishers have their version of a story about wiping out hunger, what is wrong with the food and agriculture system, and how to fix it.

This is becoming a well-worn story, now that everyone’s come to the realization that there is more than enough food in the world and that hunger stems from other problems such as political mismanagement, economics of individuals and individual nations, waste, storage, distribution, infrastructure deficiencies, requires regional solutions, and the like.

In addition, each day more and more NGOs and institutions announce that they’ve set out to solve the “how to feed the world in the future” problem, as their newly appointed goal, which, while this is a noble cause for those of us suffering of plenty, often the wheel just ends up getting reinvented.

So, I shall go against the mainstream approach to this Food Day 2013 by talking about obesity, which is equally unhealthy for humans.

Since obesity is the number one food problem in America and much of the world, my Boulderite version of World Food Day is to present a newly released book explaining why Coloradans are consistently the thinnest in the nation. The book, “State of Slim: Fix Your Metabolism and Drop 20 Pounds in 8 Weeks on the Colorado Diet” is by James O. Hill and Holly R. Wyatt.

It’s all about lifestyle, activity level, and exercise, says co-author, Dr. James Hill. Add a mind-set to eat healthily, and we’ve got a winning combination of daily values here in Colorado that really works.

The authors advocate adopting the Colorado lifestyle, which means doing physical activity 70 minutes a day, six days a week — for the rest of your life, far more than the CDC’s current recommendation of 150 minutes per week. This, they say, will reset your body’s metabolism.

Since I live in Boulder, and am typical in this lifestyle practice that he’s advocating, I say that this amount of exercise each week simply expends more calories than sitting, and promotes an emotionally healthy attitude which carries over to the way we eat. It’s an overall consistent value system. I also don’t see this amount of exercise or activity as being a punishment; it is one of the highlights of my day.

People living elsewhere who are thin have also adopted this same “Colorado” active lifestyle, the authors conclude.

Sometimes, it seems like media decries personal responsibility when it comes to obesity. While it is an undeniable problem that big-food knows how to create addictive foods rewarding our brains through using too much salt, fat, and sugar; and, food eaten away from home supplies way too many calories per portion, Hill’s book suggests that by adopting an active lifestyle the rest will follow; and, that there are no easy avenues to weight loss.

Unfortunately, the reality is, for those of us living in the industrialized world, to the great detriment of our health, we’ve engineered activity out of our daily lives. We must now work at engineering it back in, and that is my wish and hope for all of us on this “World Food Day.”

Boulder’s Flood September 2013

It rained all day Tuesday, then it rained again all day yesterday, but last evening it rained torrentialy for the first few hours after dark. By this morning, we’d received 6.5 inches of rain in 24 hours, and by now perhaps 10 inches. That’s about half of our average annual rainfall. The rain has continued throughout today, and is to go into tomorrow.

At our house we had to bail water out of a basement window well for an hour, and eventually got some plastic rigged up to protect that weak point. Up and down our street this morning neighbors were dealing with issues, plastic was being put over chimneys, over roofs, and pumps were being used to pump water out of some of the houses. This fifty year old neighborhood isn’t accustomed to this kind of rain here in Boulder.

The rain is widespread — covering an area from Estes Park all the way to East Denver. East Boulder County is currently cut off from West Boulder County because roads are impassible. Some neighborhoods, communities, and towns have become islands due to closed roads either direction, such as Lyons, which has also lost its water supply.

I ventured out on my cruiser bike around 1 PM today to take some photos, all within a half mile, or so, of our house.

This first photo (above) is of the bicycle trail underpass of Bear Creek and U.S. 36, also referred to as the Denver-Boulder turnpike. During the half hour that I was out, I saw Bear Creek coming up rapidly, as the water level in this photo is much higher than in the first one that I took a half hour earlier.

In the above photo, Bear Creek is coming over the road which is normally the entrance to St. Andrews Church on Baseline Road.

This is the Baseline Road bicycle trail underpass which follows Bear Creek, which is overflowing onto the trail. I visited with a neighborhood lady who was also taking photos in this spot and she told me that all of their neighbors who live along Bear Creek have six to twelve inches of water in their basements.

This is normally a footpath or bicycle trail near Williams Village, part of the University of Colorado’s student housing. Note the two “bumps” in the center are the railings on the footpath, now covered by Bear Creek’s overflowing water.

The University of Colorado’s classes were called off for today and tomorrow. The students that I ran into were totally gobsmacked, asking me how long I’d lived here, and if this sort of thing happens very often. Poor, poor, frosh. One said he felt like he was back in Wisconsin. You can see how wet the conditions still were as I was out and taking these photos, and as I write this. This moisture in the sky is stuck.

The Coast Guard has been called in to our land locked town, and one student told me he saw amphibious vehicles (similar to the ones above) coming in on the turnpike.

That’s my little world view of this flood and you are hearing plenty about it on the national news, so my coverage of it ends here.

UPDATE: The USGS says this now qualifies as a hundred year flood based on flow rates, but doesn’t care for that terminology.

Friday UPDATE: h/t Dennis Dimick for this article – Colorado Deluge: “Could Be Classified as a 1,000-Year Event” By Tom Yulsman. Is this one of those “rivers in the sky” situations? It feels like we are experiencing a tropical moisture event. And the rain started after an unbearable unseasonable heat wave that lasted 3 weeks. Now back to dealing with the 8 inches of water in the basement. Dear old McGuckins Hardware just got a new shipment of sump pumps in.

SEE follow-up post here.